I am going to have to take a couple of weeks off from here for work. We are preparing for our District Attorney to announce whether or not the police involved in the shooting of Stephon Clark, an unarmed Black man, will be prosecuted. No one is expecting that they will be, so we are working on plans, programming, and support mechanisms for the trauma of this reality.
Studies backed by quantitative data demonstrate that people of color (particularly young people and Black men) are disproportionately killed by police. This is accurate and valid information. It is not my opinion. Regardless of how you feel about the how and why of those numbers, Stephon Clark was a young father, and it is tragic that his life was ended. Being shot at 20 times was not the appropriate response for what police suspected his was doing – breaking car windows.
I am sad. I am angry. And I am committed to being part of the solution. So I am focusing on that as we figure out what our role is as an institution in supporting our community and seeking change. No one should have to leave in fear of the people who are supposed to protect them.
The past few weeks at work have been particularly difficult. I work with a diverse group of people from diverse backgrounds with diverse opinions. This is one of my favorite things about this university and this city. I know where I stand on the issue of police brutality and I believe that accountability and transparency should not be optional. Look at all the scrutiny that public education is under. Everyone is all up in the business of educators. I do not believe that we should protect crappy educators. And as a publicly funded system, the public has a right to know what we are doing and how we are doing it. I do not understand why that expectation is not extended to our publicly funded police departments. It is easy to think of the long-term damage that occurs from poor teaching, but the damage caused by poor policing is the end of a life.
It’s been a hard year filled with difficult, tense, and uncomfortable conversations. There are people I work with who I have lost respect for, and there are people for whom I will now go to the end of the earth. I have been disappointed and let down by people’s lack of empathy and thoughtfulness more times than I can count, and I have spent a lot of days crying in my office with some of the women I am working closely with on these efforts.
Arguing with and calling out my white colleagues for their bullshit sucks, but I feel that it is my responsibility as a white person to hold other white people accountable. People of color should not bear the responsibility for constantly pointing out our problematic ways. I do not understand why it is so hard for white people (predominately) to accept that our experiences are not the only experiences on this planet, and that the system that we established and benefit from every day continues to destroy lives. I am not surprised that people do not care or that they find ways to blame the communities most affected by police violence, but it never gets less infuriating.
It took me a long time in life to feel comfortable talking about race and issues like police accountability. I did not feel confident in what I believed and I did not feel able to properly express myself against a dissenting opinion. I also know that it is an extreme entitlement that I got to decide when I felt ready to talk about these issues because the people affected by them never get a reprieve. They never get a break from the consequences of white supremacy. And I don’t mean Nazis. I mean the racist system built by white people to benefit white people. Being nice is not going to fix anything for anyone.
I am on my second reading of White Fragility (there is a lot to process), and I really encourage all my fellow white people to read it with an open mind and an open heart. White people (me included) benefit from white supremacy every day. As the author notes, “racism is a structure, not an event.” It is easy to think we are not racist if we aren’t actively being racist to people, but that is not the only way that we participate in racism.
This effects all white people: liberals, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, ALL OF US. And we learn early and often that we are the universal experience. We are largely unable to even talk about race without losing our shit. Just ask someone what it means to be white or how they benefit from being white. Give it a go. I did this the other day with a male colleague who is loudly liberal and I was met with an immediate defensiveness about how he’s not racist and how he’s worked hard for what he has achieved. No one is criticizing your work ethic or the barriers you have had to overcome, but being white has not made the path harder.
We white folks more often than not choose segregation (ask someone about where the “good” schools are) and live in a world where our lives and experiences are constantly reflected back at us. I could rant all day about this, but I really encourage we the white people to all to read this book and think about the role we play in a structure that benefits us at the cost of everyone else. This book has given me a lot to think about and I have seen many of my own behaviors that I now see as problematic reflected back at me. We can all grown, learn, and do better.
Anyway, it’s just a lot right now and something has to give. Thanks for reading and I hope to be back soon. You can always catch me on the ‘gram.