Posts Tagged ‘racism’

#BlackLivesMatter . . . This is so much more than Michael Brown and Eric Garner

15855236526_cdaf252dc3_kI’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.

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Somebody please remind me what year it is . . .

What year is itI was in kindergarten when I first recognized differences in skin color. It’s not that I hadn’t ever met anyone with skin that was different from mine before that, I just didn’t pay any attention to it because nobody pointed it out to me and I was a kid and all I cared about was who was going to play with me. But as I was headed off to my first day of kindergarten, in September of 1984, all nerves and excitement, I was told by a family member that I was lucky because, although I was living in a diverse city, the school I was going to was completely white.

As my mom walked me to school that day, I asked why that was important. She told me that it wasn’t and to ignore what was said to me that morning. I remember a smirk on her face when she picked me up that afternoon and saw that my new best friend was the only black girl in my class. I only attended that school for a few months. At the school I transferred to, I was one of only two or three white kids in my class.

I moved a lot growing up and over the course of my education, I attended city schools, suburban schools, diverse schools, pretty damn homogenous schools, public schools, a Catholic school, “bad” schools, award-winning schools  . . . . If there’s anything I can take away from my experiences across all of them it’s that we’re all the same . . . and we’re all different.

Two children climbing the monkey bars couldn’t care less what each other looks like. They’re friends . . . and often instantaneously. I’ve watched it happen with my daughter over the past 8 years. She was born with kid-dar – no matter where we are or what we’re doing, she finds any child who is within a couple years of her age. She finds them, she starts a conversation, and by the time we’re leaving, she has a new best friend. It doesn’t just happen at the playground or children’s museums. It happens on the bus, at the supermarket checkout, in restaurants, and shopping malls.

Our experiences make us different . . . . and some of those experiences relate to race and skin color . . . and to religion and nationality and sexual orientation and gender and gender identity. Our differences shouldn’t be ignored . . . they should be celebrated. But at the heart of it, we’re all just looking to connect with others . . . whether we are children searching for a playmate or an adult searching for friendship and companionship.

If I would have put any weight to what I was told on my first day of kindergarten, I would have missed out on a great friend . . . just as adults often miss out when they can’t see past the color of someone’s skin.

In 2013, it feels like we should be past all of this. Some people think we are. Some people think racism is over. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it’s not, that we still have a long way to go.

A recent Cheerios commercial provided such a reminder . . . not because of the commercial itself but because of the comments it generated. The commercial features a little girl with a white mom and a black dad. The comments on the YouTube video have been disabled because of all of the hateful remarks, but plenty of them can still be found on the numerous articles written about the commercial.

I read comments about the “genocide of the white race” and about the “impurities of all the mutts” and “defilement of our white nation” and “shoving multiculturalism down our throats” and more. While the positive feedback has far outweighed the negative, those hate-filled comments should not be ignored or forgotten.

We need the kick in the ass to show us that racism is still very much alive in America because only by acknowledging a problem can we work to rectify it.

It is 2013. We need to start acting like it.

Here’s the commercial, in case you didn’t see it. . . .