To be honest, I don’t know a lot about Ferguson. I’m not living under a rock, I know the basics of what happened. But, my anxiety just won’t allow me to read too much. I was chicken. I didn’t want to think about one of my sons being killed, because that’s what I do when I read about it happening to someone else. I didn’t want to think about what the police officer did or didn’t do in a situation I can’t imagine, because I have friends who are officers. I didn’t read or listen to a lot of the news about it, because sometimes I just can’t handle it. I guess to some people that may seem like I’m uninformed, or lazy, but it’s just what I have to do for myself.
But this is what I do know about Ferguson. Race is still an issue in this country. Yes, we have come such a long way, and that should not be ignored or diminished. But, we’ve still got a long way to go, and it would be better for us if we just admitted that and worked on it, instead of yelling about how it isn’t really a problem.
I have two teenage sons. They are white, and fair haired. If they walk down our street, an eye or two may glance in their direction because they’re young boys. I think we all know how teenage hormones are, and we’re all a little suspect about what they might do at any time. So yeah, they’ll get a glance. But that’s it. It’s very unlikely that they’ll get stopped, or questioned about where they are going. They can walk through a store now without me, and almost no one looks up. I know that this is not the case for my friends who have black children. Their children will get more than a few eyes on them when they walk down the street, and their children have a pretty good chance of being followed through the store. We all know this is true. We may even be guilty of being the ones giving the extra glances. I can’t ignore the fact that my sons will just have it easier than the sons of my friends. I can’t tell my sons that we’re all the same no matter what our skin looks like, because that’s just not true. Pretending that it is does them a disservice. It causes them to ignore the very real problems we still have. It causes them to think that their black friends will be treated the same way they are, and not notice when they’re not. I want them to notice when their friends are being treated unjustly.
When I was about ten, I was riding through the country with my father, and he pointed to an empty field. He told me that when he first moved to the area long before my birth, he drove past that same field and a KKK rally was going on. My child brain was shocked that something like that happened in a place within my realm of experience, but as a child, I also told myself that stuff was all gone now, and he was just talking about something that used to be. Of course, when I got older, I knew that it wasn’t gone. It still existed outside my experience though….until it didn’t.
I distinctly remember my father telling me he’d joined the KKK. He presented it as something very casual and ordinary. It was as if he’d decided to move to Alaska and knew I might be a little shocked, but would quickly understand. I didn’t understand though. He tried to explain it, to justify it, but there are some things you just can’t justify. My relationship with him was already hanging by a thin thread, and it wasn’t too long after that that I ended all contact. It certainly wasn’t the only reason I stopped speaking to him, but it was the final straw. It was also an enormous wake up call.
The number of people who join hate groups, and feel the way those groups do is small when compared to the whole of humanity. That, I am thankful for. But, to a lesser degree, many of those beliefs are still held by a lot of people. Whether we are willing to admit or acknowledge them is up to us. Not long ago I read an article about our willingness to make eye contact and give a nod of our head to other people. In that article, black males admitted that they don’t often make that sort of contact with strangers because of how they believe they will be viewed. As a female, I’m a bit hesitant to make that sort of acknowledgement of males in general, but do I do it even less with black males? I don’t know, but I’m going to pay attention to that now.
I don’t know what happened that day in Ferguson. Only those involved do. But I do know that we still have work to do on a national level, and more importantly on an individual level. We must identify our own prejudices and work on them. We must make an effort to get to know people who do not look like us. Racism is fear, and once you know your neighbor it’s a lot harder to be afraid of them.