“How do we talk about race? How do we see one another as human, as having lives that matter, as people deserving of inalienable rights? These conversations are always so tense, so painful. People are defensive. We want to believe we are good. To face the racisms and prejudices we carry forces us to recognize the ways in which we are imperfect. We have to be willing to accept our imperfections and we have to be willing to accept the imperfections of others. Is that possible on the scale required for change?” —Roxane Gay
Yesterday, police officer Darren Wilson was allowed to walk free and not face any legal consequences for shooting and killing Michael Brown, a young black man. Today, I attended an office retreat that took place not far from the neighborhood where I grew up.
The two are not completely unrelated.
Growing up in a diverse, predominantly ethnic neighborhood where people of color were a majority (or at least it seemed to me then), I didn’t notice systemic racism. I didn’t realize that all those times that I was pulled over for being a 16-year-old brown boy driving a Honda Civic was racial profiling. I didn’t realize that the “random” locker searches in middle school in order to find drugs unfairly targeted students of color. I knew that it was wrong that the local 7–11 owner only allowed two black kids in the store at a time while not similarly imposing such a cap on the white children, but I didn’t stand up and ask him why.
All this, to me, was the way the world worked. I lived by a different set of rules than some of my friends because I was brown, and my black friends lived by an even different set of rules. To me, at that time, this was the way of the world. It was unfair, yes, but it was the way.
I know better, now. I know that this isn’t the way the world is supposed to be. I know that there are systems and structures that are inherently unfair to people that are different, and that some people in positions of power are invested in replicating and upholding those same systems and structures. I know that it is those same structures that let a white police officer get away with killing a young black man without facing any consequences. I know that a system that considers a person of color as less than equal is not just a world that is unfair, or wrong, but is a system that must be fought against, that must be upended and subverted.
Last night, the people of Ferguson took to the streets to remind us, even those of us seemingly far away from Missouri, that we need to upend, subvert, and fight — but first, we need to notice. To remind us that any system that considers the life of a person of color less than the life of any other person is a flawed system that can not be perpetuated.
To remind us that there are children that see and face systemic racism everyday and think this is just the way the world works, that inequality is just the way of the world — and that those children deserve better.
“I know that one day I will tell my child, if I am blessed enough to have one, that the world is afraid of them, and that the police are not to be trusted. I know that one day, that child will tell her own child the same thing. And yet, I know that I still have enough hope to want to bring children into this world, broken as it is. That is something.” —Ezekiel Kweku