another attempt to talk about Ferguson

4 Sep

Everyone has been writing about, sharing about, tweeting and re-tweeting about Ferguson – where a

“… police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager on his way to college … Brown was shot multiple times, though his hands were in the air. His uncovered body was left in the street for hours, as a crowd from his neighborhood gathered to stand vigil. Then they marched down to the police station. On Sunday evening, some folks in the crowd looted a couple of stores and threw bottles at the police. Monday morning was marked by peaceful protests.”  In defense of black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream.

Residents of Ferguson, Missouri received tweets from Gaza about how to handle tear gas. (Thank you, Alexandra, for sharing this alarming detail.)

We are the world. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.  We cannot hold ourselves up in the U.S. as if we are somehow … better, smarter, stronger … the veneer is wearing thin. Reality is setting in.

It often takes me days to grasp the weight of a thing. Especially when I am not directly involved. Especially when I have the luxury of taking my time, the privilege of observing, acknowledging the horror at my own speed. When it is not my life on the line. Not my son’s, nor my daughter’s, mother’s, father’s. But if there’s one thing I’ve become clear about these past few weeks – if, by some chance, I wasn’t clear about it, or not clear enough about it before – it’s this: Violence is not a spectator sport.

It isn’t a sport. There are no spectators. We are all involved.

I put myself in the shoes of Michael Brown’s mom.

How can we make sure this never happens again?

Because it does. Happen.

And then it happens again.

Not sure what I mean? Watch Melissa Harris-Perry’s Searing Tribute To Black Men Killed By Police.

The truth is, it’s been happening all along. It’s just that this summer, the people who rose up in anger were heard. The people who rose up in anger were seen. “White people, too?” my ten year-old asked when I told her. When I finally told her, my daughter, whose experience and understanding of racism is and always will be different from mine, wanted to know if white people rose up in anger, too.

Do you want to know why I told my ten year-old exactly what happened to Michael Brown? Because of this: Explaining Police Violence and Racism to Young Kids … and this: What Racism Does to the Young.

“Yes,” I said, “there are white people in Ferguson standing up with their anger, too.” And I told her about the boys her age, one black, one white, and their sign – a picture I cannot seem to find again! The white boy held a sign that said something like, “My friend deserves the same rights and respect as me.” I tried so hard to hold back my tears as I told her.

How do we keep this from happening again?

And again…

Where does it begin? Where does it end?

I began my adult life in the theater. I toured children’s schools all around the city of Chicago. My cast-mates were mostly black and white.

As we spent time creating together, tangling our passions up with one another, we began to feel close. This ensemble – these people – were all my friends. We laughed. We bickered. We helped each other learn and grow. We rolled our eyes. We strove to accept one another’s theatrical weaknesses and applaud one another’s theatrical strengths.

I remember my first performance in a mostly Black school. I remember walking into the building and feeling my chest clench. I remember walking by these very tall Black boys – taller than me – on my way to the school office to sign in, passing each boy with a head nod and a smile, anxious, my heart fluttering, angry with myself for feeling what I was raised to feel when passing a Black boy in the hall, on the street, in any context. Acting out what I learned at two or three years old, that lesson coded into my understanding of the word “safety” when we would drive through certain areas of town and lock the doors. Angry with myself because now I was grown and should know better. But the mind doesn’t rule the heart. It’s the other way around. I remember being angry with myself. Yet still afraid. Trying not to show my fear. Failing, I’m sure. Failing.

I remember warming-up more quietly than usual. I remember listening, watching – feeling my cast-mates, myself, the students and teachers as they filed into the room class by class, calling out to one another. Excited. Rowdy. I remember how the room felt charged. Or maybe it was me.

I don’t remember the show.

I remember after the show, how my friend approached me and threw an arm around my shoulders. “How was that?” she asked. She was older than me and Black. Her voice was soft, and in this moment, she was more open with me than she often was. She waited.

” Okay. Hard,” I think I said. It was a new experience for me, being in the minority.

She laughed, but warmly. “Now you know how it feels,” she told me. I nodded, and more quietly, she added so only I could hear, “That’s how I feel almost every day.”

That’s how I feel almost every day.

That’s when it fell into place for me, for the first time.

That’s how I feel almost every day.

Have you seen Jon Stewart’s Race/Off segment? It helps. Right now, it helps. It really does.

And then there’s this: Ten Things White People Can Do About Ferguson Besides Tweet.

I don’t know how we keep this from happening again, but I know that we must. try. every. day.

I value so deeply the people who will struggle with me around race, the people who really see me and hear me and challenge me when I begin to get honest about who I am and where I’ve been. That’s what it takes – this struggle, this honesty, this challenge – to make change. 

That’s part of what it takes, anyway. Each word another stepping stone. Each period a tool. We are laying down a path for one another.  With stories. With anger. With trust. Because we must. Because there is no one else here but us.






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