Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thinking About Ferguson, MO

Photo courtesy of Loavesofbread
I am a white woman, and I do not know what to do or what to say about Ferguson, Missouri.

My heart is broken for the young man who was shot to death in the street. (Yes, I know that he allegedly stole from a convenience store and pushed over a clerk who was half his size. I frankly don't give a shit. Death is not an appropriate punishment for theft--or even robbery--and no punishment should ever be meted out by the police. It is not their job.)

There is a divide between black America and white America, and no matter how sympathetic I am, I cannot ever understand what it is like to be afraid that my sons might be shot by police. I do not have to coach my boys on how to safely handle interactions with police officers.

In a lot of ways, I feel like this gives me very little to say. As a woman and a feminist, I do know how frustrating it can be when well-intentioned men swoop in and try to talk about women's issues. Though they truly do want to understand and help, there is a sense of "Be quiet now, ladies, the mens are talking and will take care of that little issue for you." The line between meaningful support and being patronizing is so very easy to cross unknowingly.

I have no doubt that there is a similar line when well-meaning white folks want to understand and help the black community when it is hurting. That's why I try very hard to keep quiet about issues of race, since I understand that I don't know and will never know what it is really like.

The problem with keeping quiet, however, is that it can lead to inaction. Yes, I sign petitions and tweet (a little bit) and try to talk to my son about issues of race in good NurtureShock fashion. But mostly, I am glad that I don't have to worry about my sons and I am so glad that they will inherit an easy, privileged, white American life.

In the deep, dark heart of me, I am relieved that I can consider Mike Brown and the issue of injustice in America not my problem.

I am ashamed of these feelings.

And the thing is, no matter what I tell myself, Mike Brown's death is my problem. I am an American, and I am part of the problem with race in America unless and until I become part of the solution.

I'm not sure what that solution looks like. I just know that I have to get over my fear of speaking up--because, make no mistake, I am afraid. I'm afraid of sounding clueless and angering people and drawing the attention and ire of racists. But none of those things I fear compare with the fear of losing a child to violence. Nothing can compare with the heartbreak of seeing your son's body lying on the street for hours. I tell myself that I don't speak up because I don't want to make such tragedies be about me, but my real reason for not speaking up is all about me.

I hope that others who feel as I do will start to speak up, as well. I hope we can add our voices to the ones that are already raised in protest, and we can enact meaningful change. I hope that fifty years from now, we will not still have to protest this shit.

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