My parents have always been active in their want and education for all of us to be understanding of such matters. Both, over the years, have shared countless stories and testimonies of the hardships they faced in coming to America, in wearing darker skin, and in navigating it all with love for a better life.
In fact, it was my mother who forced me to read "Black Boy" by Richard Wright as a teenager. A book that is now one of my all-time favorite reads. After two summers of blowing it off, my mother (who always loves leaving notes and messages for others), on the final day of school, left her copy of the book on my bed with a crisp legal sheet that stated, "Read! You're not going outside until it's finished" for me to come home to. She got me. As always, mama knew! Two chapters into Wright's life-changing words, I was hooked. I finished the book in eight days.
I pulled into my parent's driveway and immediately noticed something was different. For years, my parents had two flags proudly represented in flower pots on their stoop. One for the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And one for the United States of America. "St. Vincent gave me life, America gave me a chance to make something of that life", my dad would always say.
On this day, one flag was there - that of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
My mom opened the door and I handed her a few items and bags I brought for her. I quickly noticed the colors of the red, white, and blue rolled up inside of the foyer area.
After the usual small talk of catching up and allowing her to give her opinions on the world as is, the conversation reached a crossroads of what has been on everyone's mind - black lives in America. I finally had my opening, and asked her, "Hey, do you need a new American flag? I can get you a new one", trying to pose the question in a non-leading or confrontational way.
She sucked her teeth the way all West Indian/Caribbean people do and dropped probably the biggest bomb on me yet through this whole ordeal.
"Mannnn, I just can't anymore", she started. Clearly showing lots of hurt and pent up pain coming to the surface.
"We come here, and we work so hard to make something of ourselves. To help. To contribute. To even prove ourselves as part of society. And no matter how much you work, you sacrifice, you change, it doesn't mean nothin'. This country gave us a chance at a better life, I can never say anything against that. But after forty-something years, it's hard to be proud of something that doesn't love you back."
I stared at the sole Vincy flag limp in the soil of three purple spring flowers, as we both processed the dialogue in silence for a few moments. I often view social justice from the depths of my experiences, but this conversation really helped me get into a new mindset that shifted my focus to the many who have been enduring this for much longer. For much, much longer. And it erupts a different type of feeling when looking at inequality in America.
I've been dealing with this for 30+ years and I'm tired of it. But at that moment, I got a glimpse of the complexity of this country for so many. The tinted window on this topic has been shattered, and the hurt and pain are clearly visible for those who have given so much of themselves to this country, who have done everything they've been required to do in order to be "American" for much longer than I've been a natural citizen, and yet, still feel like a stranger in their own country.
- I've been so incredibly impressed, proud, and in awe of this generation. The active mindset for the mobilization, for change, and the desire for a better tomorrow among so many types of people has been so inspiring and rewarding. It's also been such a reward to witness my former students engage in action throughout this time. Selfishly, it really makes me feel like I've helped nurture and move along those who are providing the undercurrent for this movement.
- On the other side, I've also been apart of many young people's lives who are current law enforcement. It's been a struggle this week as I know my own experiences and distrust with the police, but also continuing to show my love and care for them as people, and also recognizing the heroic work they do perform every day. I did make it a point this week to reach out to each of them and communicate that I am thinking about them through this time and that yes, I pray for their safety. Our conversations were very surfaced, and that alone felt awkward in exchange. I can only imagine it's hard on them, especially the few individuals who are of color and share sentiments of wanting justice. I can't even begin to imagine how you wrestle the two ideologies in being a part of both worlds. But I ultimately know they have their opinions as well, and that it is surely heavy at this time.
- It was tough watching the footage of people beaten with batons in peaceful protests, reading the stories of people being detained without cause all over the country, and yes, the super-tough video of watching that 70+-year-old man shoved to the ground in Buffalo, NY. That can't be "the system". It just can't. The police should work for the people - to protect and serve. Right now, this ain't it. Not even close. And it hasn't been for a long time.
- I've already begun thinking of ways I will communicate and pass on the usual "talks" to my son in regards to being "non-threatening" to others in a few years. And while I've gotten those talks multiple times, and in multiple ways, from my parents (the usual black/brown conversations - i.e. what to do if you engage with a police officer, when pulled over, in white spaces, etc...) and many others, the truth is, my experiences, knowledge, hard truths learned over the years have taught me that no matter how "correct" my son's actions are in those moments, it doesn't matter. And in being completely vulnerable in the writing of this post - that freakin scares me. It horrifies me to no end. Because I know I've had my moments, and I still count them as being "lucky" to have escaped them alive. I can't depend on "luck" with my boy.
...the impulse to dream had been slowly beaten out of me by experience.
- Richard Wright (Black Boy)
- The conversations being had among many, especially among white people and their community, have also been awesome to watch, hear about, and witness. I know I've found myself in many DM conversations, text threads, emails, and phone conversations with all types of people. For this person who has long love social justice issues and advocating for change - it's been absolutely awesome.
- Also, as Maria Taylor so awesomely said this week, many people are revealing themselves this week. Personally, I believe we're in a special time right now, and it remains highly suspicious of those who haven't spoken up and added to the conversation but are willing to post about matters that are outright irrelevant or meaningless at this time. As mentioned before, it's very obvious.
Everything Maria Taylor said, I deeply resonated with. Especially, when she noted, "we're done apologizing".
- Another question that has come about this week in new articles, op-eds, and readings, in reviewing some of my favorite readings, and in outright pondering, is this - why are white people so mad? Especially, white men?! Can you imagine having so much privilege in this structured society and yet STILL being outraged?
- Also, why is racism even being debated? Seriously...this is as basic as this entire situation gets.
- In a conversation with a friend of mine this week (a white male), the topic of navigating tough discussions with other white individuals who refuse to acknowledge this movement arose. The focus shifted to doing so with other white friends, family, other close confidants, who refuse to acknowledge "change" and how does that affect their relationship going forward. Struck by the conundrum, and wanting to give him an answer to his struggle, I basically (and innocently) said to him, "Sounds like a white person's mountain".
That was so extremely rare to say, especially so in the context of social change. For so long, inequality discussions have always been from the perspective of the shortcomings, and not how the oppressor, can alleviate the issues at hand. We are constantly coming from a perspective of POC sharing and bearing these uncomfortable moments, and now, there are new situations and scenarios arising in which white people are going to have to encounter that will be an exclusive experience for them.
Thanksgiving dinner conversations are sure to be interesting in the homes of White America - especially in regards to new reformed thinking by some, and the "old guard" who refuse to budge. There are so many difficult conversations coming up...but it is needed.
- I'm still struggling with the Colin Kaepernick situation. I'm always telling my students and others to normalize and allow space for growth - hey, let's not shame people for their past ignorances. But mannnnnnn, I am having a hard time with those who absolutely vilified Kap suddenly changing directions. I just do. Obviously, things are changing, and some have seen "the light", but I haven't come to peace with how "patriotism" was used as an excuse to address what permeates the discussion table right now.
It also pushed me away from the NFL - among the other issues of covering up CTE and head trauma science concerns. The NFL's apology this week has shown the power of this protest and these conversations, that is for sure. Yet, I also know that the "apology" is also about them navigating the waters for the upcoming season, rather than truly wanting to effect change.
Kaepernick deserves an apology. And much like the many shallow company statements making the rounds, saying Black Lives Matter without evidence in your leadership structure, in your key policies, and in other areas of decision making, or in this case, other than the men bashing their brains in on the field, is hollow and damn near insulting.
Sorry, I got a little hot there...
- By the way, Ernie Johnson's comment of, "...what you can't do is use the flag as a blindfold" was an all-time line. So epic. EJ really is a national treasure in sports, in faith, and in social change - just an all-around good dude.
- One last "take-a-knee-gate" comment - Is Drew Brees not the poster example of what we're hoping for through all of this? Exuding white privilege blindly, missing the point, getting dragged for his mistake in the public and held accountable by other whites, coming to a realization of what was wrong, and then taking action to correct and become an ally - all in the span of three days.
- Continue to be smart about how you're consuming what is happening. Keep notice of how specific news carriers position and communicate occurrences? Be mindful of camera angles (aerial footage vs. street footage), and the perspective it's shot from (on the sidewalks, or from the viewpoint of behind the police officers). Listen to the perspective given (are they address the issue at hand? Or are they focusing on other issues?). Check sources. Look into the policy-making of political figures who are stakeholders in this change (both sides) - do they reflect your beliefs, and what they are saying are their beliefs? Be sure to take in opinion articles. Stay up to date on how you can help. And yes...take a look at the argument(s) continually being made against what we are seeing.
There is a lot of information out there - stay informed. Continue to stay educated.
- Speaking of informed, be sure to stay on top of the Ahmaud Arbery case. There is a lot of head-shaking things coming from those hearings. And also, please know that those who killed Breanna Taylor have not been brought to justice.
- I urge you to look beyond the surface. I've been very guilty of often not putting enough time into how I vote locally. Especially, when that is how you effectively make a change in your neighborhood, in your community, and in your county.
And finally (for now)...
My dad once said to me during one of those "talks", "be wary of people who tell you 'otherwise', yet have never had to fight and struggle for anything in this country".
Be wary, ya'll.