September 19, 2018

Antidote to Systemic Racism

Ann Arbor, MI -- 1964
Tresa, Tim, Me, Dad, Linda, Mum
The Sept. 6 shooting of an unarmed back man--in his own home, minding his own business--dispels any notion that our police force is innocent of systemic racism. What is the answer?

I came to the U.S. at the height of civil rights in the mid-sixties and discovered an abhorrence for racial inequality--seeded by my Civics teacher who had us read books like Animal Farm, Black Like Me, To Kill A Mockingbird. With each book, we had to write an essay--which Mr. Stewart rebutted until satisfied--and I began to seriously write. My early teen angst was profound and needed an outlet.

I'd come from a county where policemen did not apply fire hoses to anyone, a country to where escaped slaves had fled, and I found my thirteen-year-old self alarmed that so many white people had so many excuses for police racism and brutality. I came out of that civics class with an A and a heart for the social justice.

Flash forward forty years. After the 2008 presidential elections, St. Louis Police Officer Ronald L. Fowlkes emailed 23 other city cops with "I can’t believe I live in a country full of NIGGER LOVERS!” followed by 31 exclamation points. This is what that looks like: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We didn't need to read To Kill A Mocking Bird to know that African Americans live in a scary shadow no white person ever has to know. Today, in 2018, the shadow is more scary and obvious than ever. The Black Lives Matter movement emerged--but was effectively deflected with All Lives Matter and police acquittals despite evidence. No more water hoses to be sure, but lots of shooting down of unarmed black kids and men with immunity. The shooting of Botham Jean is just one more.

I was thirteen when Sandy, a black girl, and I became friends. I was thirteen when I had sleepovers at her house, with too many children crammed into close quarters, Sandy and I curled up on broken bed, my back to the thin wall that allowed me to hear the black dialect of Michigan's impoverished working class. I was thirteen when I understood that her family faced discrimination daily, that emotional violence and the threat of physical harm met her every day at school. I was thirteen when I understood that I loved my friend and I loved her family.

Love freed me from the sin of racism so prevalent in this country I adopted as my own.

Here's the thing: You can't love what you don't know. I knew and loved when I was thirteen. Hanging out with Sandy eased my angst. I invite us all to do the same.