I am reluctant to talk about race.  I believe that it is better to listen to the experiences of Black people when the topic of race comes up, and to ask questions. I may have good intentions, but the good intentions of white people have been an excuse and a “self-exoneration” (according to Ta-Nehesi Coates) since it became unfashionable to appear racist. I am trying to become more well-versed in racial dynamics; the meanings of “whiteness” and “blackness;” what it is to be “privileged;” and the psychology of implicit bias. So right now I am reading 3 books: Coates’s Between the World and I, Banaji and Greenwald’s Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s autobiography, which is really a compilation of his personal papers.

I’m just listening right now, so I’m not going to offer too much commentary. I will say that Coates would probably call Blindspot another white self-exoneration. According to him, “police reform” and all that makes us (us being the comfortable white public, and a few wealthy comfortable black people) makes us feel good, because it distances us from the fact that the police are just an extension of our own desires. We complain to the police when there is a “suspicious” man in our neighborhood. The police are our arms and hands in the public body.

One thing that struck me about Coates’ book is the sheer terror that he experiences every day. I have heard the quote “to be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” But I believe that it is also to be in a constant state of fear. I have a friend who is the mother of a 12-year old boy. He is tall and dark, and she told me she and his father sat down to talk to him about how to deal with police. I never had that talk. I grew up waving to the police and saying “thank you for your service.” I now have done a little work with my local police department and I know the leadership to be forward-thinking, and passionate about community policing, but I know that we as a society need to self-examine. We are the problem, not the police. All this justifiable fear and anger only makes MLK Jr.’s work more humbling.

I would like to end with a poem. This poem was featured in Charleston CurrentsI think it gave me just an inkling of what it’s like to be a black parent– I will never comprehend the enormity of it, but this is a glimpse.

 

I wish you Black Sons.

By Glenis Redmond, special to Charleston Currents
I wish you the ability to bear only black fruit
I wish you only sons
I wish them black
spilled from your loins like black ink
I wish you code words like: inner city  urban    hip-hop
I wish you Baltimore, DC, Newark, Philly, Ferguson, Charleston, Charlotte
and Greenville and so on…
I wish your sons long walks home
through white neighbors’ yards
I wish the neighbors’ curtains peak open
I wish they call the cops
I wish you that you live your life on the lip of this terror
I wish you dreaming of ways to whisper protection
in your sons’ ears
I wish you the knowledge that these words
won’t keep your son safe no matter how you tell him
to be clean cut and respectful and to say:  yes sir and no ma’am
I wish him natty locs and a grill
I wish him dreaming of revolution
I wish him on the frontline of the fight
tatted up and dressed in black leather
I wish you a minimum wage job
I wish you always a dollar short
I wish you no private or charter school
to keep your child away from bad influences
I wish you a job scrubbing toilets, but your mind always
on your son’s trek home as he is tracked like a suspect
I wish you a teenage boy full of shenanigans
I wish that he smokes weeds
I wish he gets in fights with his friends
I wish him a boy like any other boy not perfect,
but labeled a thug for life
I wish him stalked by a trigger-happy cop
unloading justified bullets in his black behind,
because he had it coming anyway
I wish that police officer off Scott free
time off with pay,
when he kills your son
I wish that police officer $500,000
from his Crowd Funding account
I wish you your son’s autopsy report
I wish it shows your son’s broken spine
and crushed vertebrae by his own hands
I wish you wondering how he killed him self
I wish you hear in your sleep eleven times:  I can’t breath
I wish you black
I wish you black sons
I wish you dressed in black
I wish you a black mother’s worries
and a black father’s prayers
I wish you no bandages for your bloodied son
I wish you only tears to wash his wounds
I wish you salt in your wounds:
I wish you Fox News on repeat
I wish you invitations to funerals every week
I wish you a world that cannot see your son,
but for the color of his skin
and not all the shades of how you know your son
from goofy to socially awkward
to wanna be the coolest on the block
wanting to go to prom
wanting a tight haircut and fresh kicks
I wish you not one flower at his funeral
just quotes about black on black crime
I wish you a world that never talks
about white on white crime
I wish you a stone for a pillow
I wish you awake all night alive in this place
where we have always lived:
1600s   1700s   1800s   1900s   2015
I wish you America
and your black sons are named:
Emmett, Trayvon, Michael, Oscar, Walter, Freddie and Tamir
I wish you awake enough to see: black
for what we always have been: black
and what we will always be: black
I wish you sight to take in: black
I wish you both eyes and heart to see
why we don’t parade the banner: all lives matter
because we know the statistics they don’t
I wish you: us
or at least the ability to see us: black,
but nevertheless like you: flawed, beautiful and human

 

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