Let’s Talk About Ferguson

I have white privilege. Sometimes, it’s hard to admit because I don’t want our society to be that way. I don’t want the color of my skin or of anyone else’s to matter. But the society, the world we live in – it would just be ignorant of me to pretend it didn’t matter. because in our society, it is still a big deal. People are still judged on the color of their skin.

I wasn’t introduced to the term or idea of white privilege until I was in college. I had no idea that I was moving to what is tied with Detroit for the most segregated city in America. I had no idea that friends of mine would experience discrimination. And I will never, ever have any idea what it is like to be anything other than white.

I know a bit of what it’s like to live in this city. I know I can go to the bank in a white part of town and it looks like the banks I grew up in. I know if I go to the bank in the black part of town, there’s often much more security, one I’ve been to even has a double door, that you can’t enter until the second door closes, a sort of airlock (I don’t know if I’m describing it right but that’s what it like). But even seeing and experiencing these things, observing around me that way one part is different from another, I know that I will never experience what it’s like to be racially profiled.

That’s why I’ve hesitated to say too much about Ferguson. I don’t know what I can say. What can I say that isn’t clouded by my privilege?

But I realized what I can say today. And I know my words will never be complete or enough, but even imperfect words are better than my silence. Because I do not want to give the silent endorsement that by not saying anything that this is okay. I can say that we, as a country, can do better. That we need to do better.

Because journalists are being arrested. Here. In America. Normally when we hear about that it’s in the Middle East or in certain oppressive regimes in Asia. But now? In America? We all suffer if we lack a free press. Arresting journalists usually means that you don’t want people to know what’s going on. You don’t want the truth to get out. Which has to make you ask, what is it they are trying to hide?

We need to do better because people are being tear-gassed. Here. In America. I looked to see what other recent (past year or so) examples I could find of tear gas being used around the world: Liberia, West Bank, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey are some of them. (Al-Jazeera America has pictures of many of these incidents).

You know what it reminds me of? In Jericho (a show about the United States after a nuclear attack wipes several US cities off the map) there’s an episode where Mayor Anderson tear gasses a church full of refugees that he’s decided can no longer stay in town because they threaten the survival of everyone else, because there are not enough resources for the townspeople and the refugees and so it’s the others who have to go. They didn’t grow up here. They’re not like us. They’re not a part of this community.

Because in some ways, that’s really what this is about. Seeing people as other – because of the color of their skin. And feeling threatened by that otherness, instead of realizing we are ALL human beings, no matter what color our skin happens to come in. There have been, over history, lots of lies spread about how that other person, with that other color skin, is not like us. And many of them still remain deep in our culture. And when you look at another person as other, it is very easy to degrade them, to do things to them you would never think were okay if it happened to someone like you.

And that is not okay. I can not say a lot, but I can say that is not okay. We are human beings.

And lastly, we need to do better because Michael Brown was shot in the street. He was a human being and he did not deserve to die that way. Amid all the questions about what happened that night, what we can know is that no one deserves to die that way. No mother deserves to find out that her son died at the hands of people who are supposed to be good, people who are supposed to protect, people who are supposed to serve.

I started this article by talking about white privilege and I’m going to circle back to that again. Because all I can think about is his mother. Michael Brown’s mother. I can not even begin to imagine what she is feeling. She loved her son. I know she loved her son in the way I love my son. I know she loved her son in the way all mothers love their sons.

But I will never know what she experienced. Because as this post so elegantly puts it, I have a mother’s white privilege.

“For a mother, white privilege means your heart doesn’t hit your throat when your kids walk out the door. It means you don’t worry that the cops will shoot your sons.”

I encourage you to read the whole post I linked to, because it’s extremely well written.

And now I guess it’s time to hit publish. I do experience some of the fear that my friend Marla talks about over in her blog as she too hits publish. The fear of saying the wrong thing. The fear of losing friends.

But I have reached the same conclusion. Saying nothing at all is worse.

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