This is not a ranting blog post, nor is it an I hate white people post. My little brother is biracial as a bit of context; some of my good friends are white. This is a real brain dump. A friend of mine, the father to two young black boys, posed this question to me and it sparked this post. His questions, “…how do we individually or collectively minimize the immediate fear to shoot brown skin? I still have to teach them (his sons) how to interact safely with the blue… (posture, responses, hand gestures, etc.), which is stressful.”
Here is what I offer. We have to start to have honest conversations with one another and make a choice to connect with people who do not look like us. I can recall growing up in the south, Houston, TX, to be exact. Despite growing up in the south, I can remember my classes always being diverse. I had middle eastern friends, Vietnamese friends, black friends, white friends, Latino friends, biracial friends. All found a way to coexist and I can recall us all spending the night at each other’s home and hanging out as kids do. To the point that even when I was called a “nigger” on the playground around the age of 7 or 8, everyone knew it was wrong and went to tell the teacher. I can recall that even throughout high school, the group was reasonably close.
When everyone went to college, things began to shift. People migrated to schools or experiences that no longer challenged them. We all migrated to our comfort zones. The ones that looked like our homes. I give that back story to take us to this point. We are not honest about our differences, our similarities and are not honest about right and wrong. Honestly, for many years I thought that people got what they deserved for getting in trouble. As I have gotten older, my eyes got wider, my ears opened up, my heart softened and I began to look deeper. Here are a few truths:
- Black men are sentenced to more extended and harsher penalties. Here is one example per The Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida), with the same drug offense and same circumstances black men are sentenced to nearly triple the time as white men for the same crime.
This is not to say drug crimes are not detrimental, but equal punishment should be the bare minimum for cases.
2. It starts young. Minority groups are punished harsher earlier. The Sentencing Project, a non-profit who studies and advocates for equal justice, found that American Indian (Indigenous) youth are three times as likely to be held in a juvenile detention center than white youth.
“According to a Department of Education report, black students nationally were three times more likely to be suspended than whites in 2012. Suspensions occur most commonly in secondary schools, but black children were more than twice as likely to be suspended from preschool as well. Harsher discipline for black students is not just a Southern or state-level problem. It is a national crisis.” – NY Times, September 2017
Vox had disparities broken down in 7 charts to discuss hidden racism and racial bias as it relates to kids. I won’t bore you with more charts, but the link is here: https://www.vox.com/2015/10/31/9646504/discipline-race-charts.
3. It is reasonable black, white, Asian, Hispanic and Latino, and biracial individual’s responsibility to not only challenge but to hold those accountable for biases and abuse accountable. That means we have to do more than share a post via social media. We have to do more than a retweet. We have to vote for diverse leadership, advocate for better rules and laws while checking our own biases. As a person of color in certain parts, I have been complicit. Not that I said this black or brown person was guilty or deserved their punishment, but I did not speak up when someone portrayed a black or brown person as more dangerous or insert the adjective.
4. We need to retrain police and civic officials on how to interact with diverse groups of people. They are not allowed to bring their biases to work. Period. We need cognitive gun reform. That way, there is much less threat of someone using a weapon against police officers who risk their lives. Officers also need to exercise common sense. That means a gun should be the last resort for non-violent SUSPECTS. For instance, a burglary or a loitering call should lead to an arrest, not a dead body. Period.
If our country is going to move things forward, we need more individuals who speak up loudly. That does not have to be a fight or an argument, but a conversation challenging the individuals who are being painted with a broad stroke.
When we do not challenge the things we know to be inherently wrong, then we raise young kids who become police officers, judges, Starbucks Managers, teachers, principals, school administrators, school board members and elected officials who do not advocate for true and equal justice.