As regular participants in #SAchat know, the final thought blog post comes pretty quickly after a particular chat is over… usually within a week or two. This one is different.
I was asked to write this a while ago and immediately said yes, figuring I could bang it out that weekend. But every time I sat down to write, the words just wouldn’t come. Not the right ones, anyway. Not the answers I should be giving, or the things I should be saying.
This particular chat was immediately after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. For context, I’m a horrible sleeper. My insomnia finds me awake off and on many nights, and such was the case in the early morning hours of July 7, 2016. Scrolling through Twitter on my phone, I started to see posts about an officer-involved shooting in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Many of the posts had a link attached to them, and when I clicked through, I was taken to the Facebook live stream of Philando Castile’s partner, Diamond Reynolds, who had begun live streaming what was going on in the car immediately after the officer opened fire. The video was graphic – not something I would have chosen to watch had I known what I was going to see. But once I saw it, I could not turn away.
There were so many deeply upsetting things going on in the video, but one thing in particular stood out for me. At one point, Ms. Reynolds is talking to her daughter, who is still in the car. And her daughter says to her, “It’s okay, mommy. I am right here with you.” This child, this baby, just sat feet away from a police officer pointing a gun into the car where she sat, buckled into her seat. She sat feet away while one of the influential male role models in her life was gunned down while still sitting in the car. She sat feet away while that man bled and then died right in front of her. And here she was, comforting her mother. A four-year-old. Despite her loving reassurances to her mother, it was most certainly not okay. Something in me broke in that moment.
When we had the chat that evening, I felt very helpless – I still do. I try to engage where I can around issues of social justice, particularly issues of race. I have unpacked my invisible knapsack (though I keep finding crap in there) and try to help other White folks do the same. I try hard to be an ally for my students, colleagues, and friends, but know I don’t always hit that mark. All of this, though? It’s a lot of talking, and very little doing.
In the moment that I submitted that final thought, I really didn’t think talking was helping. I needed to feel like I was doing something. In that moment, I didn’t know exactly what that something was, and I still don’t. However, I know something is better than nothing. I have started to put my time and resources (which right now means money) into organizations that support the kind of advocacy and change I believe in. I have contacted several of my government officials and voiced my concerns, I have been reading, voraciously, and trying to further educate myself. The Google doc put together by our colleagues of color during March’s #blksapblackout is an amazing resource and a great place to start. And, I’ve still been doing a lot of talking, but even more listening.
Knowing what else to do, for me, is complicated by the fact that, just hours after I sent that tweet, gunshots erupted at a peaceful protest in Dallas, killing five police officers. Then 10 days later, three more killed in Baton Rouge. My grandfather was a police officer, I was married to a police officer, and I have many friends who are officers. I have worked every day of my professional career with police officers and can tell you story after story of the good I have seen them do and the people I have seen them protect (including me). I know them, as a whole, to be exceedingly good, kind, caring people.
We often try to paint this as an “either or” situation, but it’s really a “both and.” I can know that officers can be exceedingly good and also acknowledge there are systemic issues in our criminal justice systems that disproportionately impact people of color, especially Black men. And those systems extend far past the police officers on the street.
The sooner those of us with privilege can acknowledge the multiple truths about these issues, the sooner we can work together to address them. And how do we do that? We acknowledge our privilege. We talk to each other. We listen to each other. We create space for people to be vulnerable and to be wrong, and to want to try to learn and do better. We address problematic statements and behavior. And we, those of us with privilege, do this for other folks with privilege. We stop relying on our colleagues of color, or with any other marginalized identity, to do this work for us.
We do it, because we need to fix ourselves.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Maryann Krieglstein on Social Justice & White Privilege