I’ve debated writing this because I’m scared.
Scared that I don’t have a right to write about it, tell my opinions on it, and engage others. But that is me trying to play it safe and that is not what I’m called to do.
My voice in this conversation is not typical; I am not black, I am not a male, and I don’t have black or male children. I live a pretty safe white life in a mostly-white area. But that does not make this less important to me. If anything, it makes it more. Because if I’m silent, the white middle-class majority, if I’m silent then I’m hurting and not helping. So here goes…
As the grand jury decision came out in regards to Michael Brown, I tried to trust authorities and know that there was knowledge I did not have. I hadn’t been paying too much attention other than praying for peace and that more people would not get hurt in whatever the outcome was. I don’t know if that is right or wrong, that’s just where I was and what I did.
But then last week when a New York grand jury decided Eric Garner’s death that was caught on camera wasn’t worth pursuing either, things changed. And I got worried.
In my job as a public school teacher, I teach a lot of African-American kids. I have classrooms full of students who look different than me, but have the same hopes and dreams. That do dumb stuff and then the next minute say brilliant things. Kids that want to grow up safe and live long lives.
I look at them sometimes with annoyance because they’re making my day hard and sometimes with pleasure because we’re having fun. Typical student and teacher realities, that’s where we’re at in my room. Successes and failures, good grades and failed tests, late passes and yelling out answers without raising their hands (Lord, help us).
Things that happen in classrooms across the country. Things that happen to all kids, all students, no matter what their skin color. My kids are just that, kids. Students learning about themselves, their world, and how to make those two things fit together in a way they can live with.
This week, I started looking at my male students with different eyes. Trying to see what some would see as these boys walked down the side of the road or entered a local convenience store. Not knowing them, not talking to them, not caring about them, just looking at them and making a judgement based on prejudices, television shows, and the media.
And what I saw broke my heart.
I saw that these precious, smart, ornery kids have a greater chance of being killed just because the color of their skin; that Kevin, so big he looks like a college football player when he’s only twelve, might intimidate someone enough by his mere presence that they might do something stupid. Kevin who is soft-spoken and likes to ask me how my daughters are any chance he gets. Or Malachi who always has a pick in his hair and pants down too far; who loves to read books and would rather sit and talk with me in the library than goof off with his friends. Boys that will do great things some day, but have to worry about getting to that some day.
Feeling shame for being white isn’t going to help anything so I banish those thoughts when they come. I had no more control over what race I was born than you did. But I can use my white privilege (because it does exist, please don’t tell me it doesn’t) and speak up for those that have been denied a voice.
The point isn’t that I have any answers because I don’t. I have no answers.
If anything I have more questions every day, but I need you to know I’m listening. Listening to the conversations, to the struggles, to the cries for help, and I’m learning. I think that’s what we all need to do.