Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Black History Month and a Professor

My husband sent me a text today letting me know that a professor would be speaking at a forum in our community tonight. The description I received said the talk would be about police and minority relations in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri unrest.

So, today I asked Sean to do some research on what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. He read about Michael Brown, and the protests, and the decision not to indict the police officer, online, and he took some notes. Grudgingly. And then I asked him to look for information about Tamir Rice. The information he gathered on Tamir Rice included surveillance video of that shooting. It was so heartbreaking that it took my breath away to watch it. No sound, just footage.

After watching that video, we discussed the tragedy. A boy, alone at a park, goofing off with a pellet gun, or an Airsoft gun, or something that was not a real gun. (Sean and I both wonder if the term 'pellet' is correct. There is a difference.) And this is something that boys do. Almost every one of Sean's friends has a similar gun. Though they aren't what I would call toys, they are also not real guns. Sean surmised that Tamir Rice could have been holding a Coke can, and the results would be the same. A dead 12 year old. One year younger than Sean is right now.

(I remember when it happened, and how sickened, worried, and sorrowful I was. I cannot imagine that mother's grief and pain.)

He clicked on an editorial by a former police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which revealed a deep problem of racial discrimination, and violation of civil rights by police officers there. That former police officer called for not only reforms in police training, but accountability. He said the problem is that police officers know they won't be held accountable. At worst, they get put on paid leave, something he said they call a free vacation. So, until we start to demand that they be held to a higher standard of conduct, with clear consequences, nothing will change.
Here's a link to that article:

Tonight we listened as Dr. Dexter Gordon, professor and Director of African American Studies Program at the University of Puget Sound, talked about these and other issues surrounding race, education, and poverty.
Though there were no clear quick fixes to the problems, the answer seems to be to continue the fight to change people's perceptions. Provide equal access to education and opportunities, and find ways to combat poverty.

And for me, the answer is to keep on doing what I'm doing. Keep exposing Sean to new experiences, provide him with as many examples of people of color in positions of authority and success as possible. Sacrifice, and do whatever it takes to give him opportunities, like piano lessons, and summer camps. And all of this will help him gain access to his goals.

But somehow, some way, I have to steel myself for the inevitable reality. My son will most likely have negative police interactions, and it won't matter if he has NOT broken the law. Unless you are black, or the parent of a black or brown child, you can't understand this.

I know some of my friends don't believe this. It is real. It is the reality of black and brown people. You can try to explain it away all you want, but if this started happening to white people, if we were pulled over for making eye contact with an officer, or assumed to be breaking into our own homes, and arrested or pepper sprayed for it, this crap would stop. White people would take to the streets, they'd be mad, demand that the Mayor, or the Police Chief, or SOMEBODY, do something to change it.
And yet when black people get angry and take to the streets demanding change, we call them names. White people start throwing out labels like "thug," and say things like, "the best way to not get killed by cops is to obey the law." But the laws, last time I checked, were put in place to ensure that we are all presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I am no expert on the law, but I've never heard about cops having the right to gun down unarmed people on suspicion of guilt. Their job is to make arrests, and only if there is cause, and then WE, the PEOPLE, get to decide if they are guilty.

Unless you are a person of color, I guess.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:
Harvard Professor Jailed; Officer Is Accused of Bias

N.C. Police pepper spray black teen in his own home

Ohio Cop Pulls Over Black Man Who 'Made Direct Eye Contact' With Him

But we have to keep moving forward, and one by one, step by step, work to make the world a better place for all of us.
And in the coming days, we will look closer at the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and see how much we think has changed since his I Have A Dream speech.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Black History Month and Poetry

Each year during Black History Month we highlight someone in history. Of course Martin Luther King, Jr. is a go-to, because he was such an amazing leader. We've also studied Rosa Parks, and a few others.

This year I brought home one book on Martin Luther King, Jr. from the library during his birthday week, and I also found a book of poetry by Langston Hughes, "Poetry for Young People."

Sean read most of the poems today, aloud, while I drove him to PE at the Y. I could tell he was enjoying them. He has always appreciated poetry. One of the poems, "My People" includes an editor's note explaining how Hughes clashed with his father, who had a negative attitude about Negroes. Sean and I discussed why his father might have felt that way. We didn't have a good answer.

When we were finally home, he sort of wandered around the house. I let him, and didn't ask him to do school work, or anything at all. I recognize his pacing. It means he is thinking, and trying to decide what to work on. I believe this is an important process, and should not be interrupted. I also know how important that time can be, because I used to do it every day as a newspaper reporter. To the outsider it looks like you are procrastinating, wasting time, goofing off. For the creative person, it's invaluable time. I was formulating a lead paragraph, recalling all of the standout quotes, and thinking, thinking, thinking. When I was ready, I could sit down at the computer and put together my story. Of course, at a newspaper this whole process has to happen within a very small window of time.

Luckily, we don't have to do it so quickly. After about 30 minutes, he asked for the book of poems. And within about 30 more minutes, he came out of his room. He had chosen a favorite poem from the book, and written about it, and Langston Hughes, in his history composition book.