I’ve been haunted by those words recently…some of the last words that Eric Garner spoke.
As I’ve watched the protests growing out of Ferguson and New York…and watched some of the conversations…I’ve tried to figure out how to say what i feel. How can I say it in words that can be heard and not immediately set aside or assumed to be something else?
Some of our language is so imprecise…or has been so co-opted for political purposes on all sides of the issue of race relationships…that it seems to be very difficult to have meaningful dialogue.
I remember the first time I really became aware of what is often referred to as “white privilege.” A friend of mine–a woman of color–and I had boys who were the same ages. My son was making some unwise choices, and I commented about my concern that he might get pulled over by the police for some of those stupid choices. She quietly said that every time her boys left the house, she worried that they would get pulled over for “driving black” and she always prayed that they would return home alive. That shocked me. I had worried about my son perhaps being injured because of his unwise choices, but never because of his color.
Later, I listened to a friend from Africa–whose English was somewhat limited–tell about being pulled over several times on the same stretch of road. He was never sure why, because he made certain that his car was in good repair…he followed the rules of the road explicitly…and yet he was stopped several times. I heard others who drove that same stretch of road acknowledge that it was a known area for stopping people for “driving black.”
As I’ve read posts from some of my friends and listened to comments on the news, it seems to me that we are far too often talking past each other, rather than with each other. Yet if any good is to come out of these tragedies, we have to talk withi. We have to put our biases aside. We have to be willing to acknowledge that none of those involved in the situations were perfect. Stupid choices were made…choices that led to tragedies. Yet if all we can see is people who fit our stereotypes, we will never get anywhere.
I cannot speak for mothers and grandmothers who are people of color. Many of their experiences are far different from mine. But I can listen to them. Yes, sometimes the rhetoric gets heated…but I wonder if I would be able to respond any more calmly if I were in the same situation.
Yet there are calmer voices. One of them came from a blog writer I enjoy reading in the Kansas City Star. Jenee Osterheldt writes from the perspective of a woman of color, and I think it’s important to hear her words. Her entire article is here…but these words from it really struck me:
We have to see beyond the bad. Not all protesters are looters. Not all white people are racist. Not all black people are thugs. Not all cops are bad. We’re all humans, and we must come together and create change. We have to vote differently, we have to think differently, we have to get to work.