I’d like to set aside the high emotions of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many others. Regardless of your opinion on these three separate and individual cases, regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, it is appalling to me if you cannot grasp the big picture of how our society treats young black men and boys . . . Because it starts long before they become the “thugs” who are killed with impunity.
To say we are not a post-racial society is an understatement that barely grazes the issue. To say there are too many people who have no understanding of what white privilege means doesn’t do the least bit of justice to the extent of the problem. Because this starts long before the protests and the incidents highlighted on the news. It starts before these kids come to me and others in my field . . . . before they don the label of “conduct disorder.”
I bring my field of work into this because I think the issues are very much tied together. I work in children’s behavioral health. “Youth from minority racial/ethnic groups are approximately one-third to one-half as likely to receive mental health care as White youth.” Children of color are more likely to be seen as criminal than as needing of mental and behavioral health services. Children of color who do receive treatment are more likely to be labeled with conduct disorders over oppositional defiant disorder. But it starts long before this.
It starts with the biases people refuse to acknowledge. It starts with willful ignorance. It starts with those who hear words like “privilege” and “inequality” and automatically go on the defensive . . . who derail legitimate conversations of systematic oppression by gas lighting anyone who has the gall to point it out.
Because let’s be clear . . . . this is, absolutely, about race.
And to understand that, you really don’t have to go any further than the reactions to any of these cases. Scroll through a few comment sections and attempt to stomach the blatant racism . . . or even the veiled racism by people who can’t even see that they’re racist. Because if your reaction to an unarmed black man being choked to death after calling out over and over and over again, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” is “well, he shouldn’t have resisted arrest, you’re part of the problem.
My supervisor did an exercise at work a few weeks ago in an attempt to help us acknowledge our own biases . . . . because the truth is, we all have them, whether they are tied to race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or whatever else. We all have ingrained preconceived ideas about people. And the only way to overcome these biases is to acknowledge them. That’s something I’ve been doing for decades. It can be ugly sometimes, but it’s necessary.
When your first reaction to “privilege” and “inequality” is to deny their existence, you’re also denying your own biases. You’re feeding into a society that calls young black boys problems before they offer them help. You’re feeding into a society that calls the cops on a black man for walking down the street in the cold with his hands in pockets.
You’re feeding into a society that labels black men and boys as expendable.