A Heavy Heart

| 12/8/2014 8:36:00 AM

South Africa

This week, I had hoped to write about giving to charity instead of corporations for the Holidays, but the topic below took personal and national precedence. I will look forward to discussing donations in place of consumption next week.

My heart is heavy. A little more than a week ago, at the Thanksgiving table, my family got into quite a heated conversation about prejudice—specifically, the recently meditated concentration of black deaths in the United States at the hands of white police officers. Since the conversation, I can’t help but reflect on the level of fear, ignorance, and consciously calculated hatred in our country and around this world. I find it increasingly difficult to extend an understanding, necessary to open dialogue, with those who fail to acknowledge the historic and systematic roots of irrationally excessive uses of force.

It wasn’t until my husband and I took a trip to Durban, South Africa two years ago to visit our daughter that I witnessed first-hand how a white American male feels when plucked out of the privilege of his majority status. We were visiting Carly during the Christmas holidays when she surprised us with a day tour of local Durban hotspots. One of the afternoon highlights happened to be a chairlift ride over the Durban beachfront, where a week-long party for tens of thousands of black South Africans, many who spend the remainder of their year inland, was taking place. On the beachfront, our whiteness was impossible to ignore. While everyone was friendly and open to us being there, we were also open game for stares as a pale-skinned spectacle. I noticed my husband looking tense and stressed, and I was immediately curious about the reason for his edginess. As we rode the chair lift above the crowd down on the beach, he remarked that this was the first time in his life that he could remember being the minority, and how exposed, unsafe, and unsure it made him feel. While being a recognized minority and a persecuted minority are completely different experiences, what Carly’s Christmas gift did give us that year was a useful dose of self-reflection and interrogation into a greater contextualization of our creature comforts.

In most of the conversation I have had recently surrounding prejudiced police killings —Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice — I find myself at a loss for words in the face of hastily and arrogant “understanding” from people of privilege and racial majority. I don’t understand the pain of losing a child. I don’t understand the pain attached to a family history of slavery and oppression. And I don’t understand the insecurity of being different, marked, and targeted for it every time I leave my home. What I do understand is that I am incredibly fortunate, and with that fortune it is my responsibility to learn, to empathize, and to struggle for the safety and justice of us all.

How can we help each other to move out of places of hatred and fear?

12/10/2014 12:47:33 PM

your experience is interesting but you don't have to go to Africa to feel what your husband felt. The mistake you are making, however, is in assuming that your husband's feelings are mirror image to what a non-white person feels in the midst of a vastly majority white crowd. It can be argued that we are born knowing "what" to fear, steep drops, large animals, etc., just as animals instinctively fear), but not "whom" to fear. Some people assume the fear white people have of black people (for example) is caused by prejudice, but, this implies a lack of knowledge. After all, lessons learned thru knowledge and experience are usually equated with "wisdom". You would be "wise" to avoid crowds, and, alternatively, lonely, spots in Durban. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience, even if the experience of others, to build wisdom from. Perhaps your husband was more aware of this body of knowledge and experience, therefore, more attuned, to this wisdom, than you were, as it would seem from your narrative, that you did not share his discomfort. That being said, a black does not, necessarily, experience the same feelings when surrounded by whites, because, the body of knowledge and experience concerning being a minority among whites, on the streets, does not equate with the obverse. Indeed, black people, as they are able, often prefer to work and live away from predominantly black areas. They are, afterall, also thinking beings, capable of converting knowledge and experience into wisdom. Black police officers kill young black men, too. The fact that Ferguson has all white police precluded the possibility that a black office could have challenged the drug affected Mr. Brown following his theft from and assault of a small asian store owner, and his current to the incident behavior of disrupting traffic by walking down the middle of the road. The absence of black officers in Ferguson gives rise to a knee jerk assumption of prejudice in city government, but, a knowledge based conclusion might be that blacks willing to live and work in the area did not qualify for the job. Along with other minimum requirements, a person must be free of felony convictions to serve and protect the public as a police officer. That certainly would have ruled out the man in New York, as he had 33 prior arrests. There is also the fact that young black men returning to their communities as police officers are often uncomfortable with the reaction of their peers and may be uncomfortable performing that role, themselves, among their peers. I don't perceive that in the white community, though it may exist. Black officers are in demand and can choose their work locations. It is evident that none have chosen Ferguson MO. This may have to do with relative compensation, more than Ferguson itself, but, it seems to me, policing Ferguson is thankless undertaking, to say the least.

12/9/2014 1:42:03 PM

Shawn. It's good that you don't let the facts of these four widely different cases interfere with your preconceived notions. Life is simpler that way.

12/9/2014 9:49:19 AM

Although it is certainly very sad that these men and boys were killed, That should never have happened, we are forgetting that each one had commited a crime and resisted arrest. It is never a good thing to resist arrest.

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