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It Starts Early

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 an honest 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 in a safe way with the blue… (posture, responses, hand gestures and etc.) which is stressful.”

Here is what I offer. We have to start have honest conversations with one another and make the 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 recall 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 others home and hanging out like 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 fairly 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 honest about right and wrong. If I am honest 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:

  1. Black men are sentenced to longer and harsher penalties. Here is one example per the 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.

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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 3 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 retweet. We have to vote for diverse leadership, advocate for better rules and laws while checking our own biases. As a person of color at 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 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 a much less threat of someone using a weapon against police officers who risk their life. 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 not lead to an arrest or dead body. Period.

To close…

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.

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BE SAFE!

Be Safe!

Be Safe! I heard this while out and about the other day. A young student from the Ukraine studying in America was told by an American that lived in her apartment complex, “Be Safe it’s very dangerous out there!”, he said after learning she would be traveling home to the Ukraine for the summer.

I had to pause for a moment. The thought that many Americans have about other countries is that they are all “more dangerous” than we are. That some how traveling abroad would make one more susceptible to violence.

It made me think back to my own travels and experiences. Traveling to Norway and Brazil several times was quite an experience. I made those work trips pretty much alone. Yet I never felt unsafe. I can recall going for a jog in Stavanger fairly late several nights and never feeling like I would have to worry about being robbed or kidnapped. In fact Norway is one of the safest places in the world. They have some pretty unique benefits of being a native or resident. College students attend state schools for free, they have a great work life balance, and fathers receive a great amount of paternity leave when having children.

All that said one thing I learned was about how safe country of Norway was. You rarely see police; in fact police issue more parking tickets, than anything else. What struck me most about my time there is I never felt harassed by police or felt targeted. The gun laws are fairly strict there as well. You cannot obtain a gun license until 18 and you cannot obtain a handgun until the age of 21. To obtain a gun you have to even write a letter explaining why. Guns are required to be locked, in a gun case and police have the right to inspect homes where guns are thought to be improperly secured. The statistics as of 2012 showed at 1.75/ 100,000 people died as a result of gun violence. That’s an unheard of statistic.

It made me think of how often before traveling family and people who haven’t had the opportunity to travel abroad automatically assumed the places I traveled were dramatically more dangerous. They uttered similar words to the man I overheard earlier this week.

However when I look at my experiences in America my experiences have been far more dangerous or maybe it just feels that way. I can recall being a 20 year old attending a pool party and upon exiting the car and walking to the pool being met with a gunmen who mistook me for someone else. Thank God he took the opportunity to speak to me and realize I was not the one he had a previous altercation with. In that instance I realized my safety or so I thought I had was relatively non-existent. He was carrying a semi-automatic handgun. Something you would need if going to war, not protecting yourself or your home.

In 2014 on a work trip I was traveling with a colleague (who is from and lives in the UK) in Europe and we started to talk about his experiences in visiting America. I was shocked. He was actually quite nervous about returning. He mentioned that on his first visit while doing what I had done in Europe (going for a late night run) he was pistol whipped and robbed. It was so disheartening to hear this story. I can’t imagine his experience and the difficulty he had in the remainder of his first trip. Losing your wallet, means of pay, and identification while traveling abroad is not a fun experience let alone being assaulted with a weapon and having to make a hospital visit.
I still recall the night I was walking down the street after parking near a local bar I was meeting friends at. A cop rounded the block, lights flashing and randomly stops me. “Put your hands up!” he yells as his hand is on his gun and he and his partner approach me. “Put your hands on the car!” he says and I comply. I am searched and as I am searched I nervously ask, “Officer what am I being stopped for?” He replied, “You are in a high prostitution and drug trafficking area!” Those words still burn me to this day. I’ve worked my entire life to contribute to my community and to uplift those around me so I would not participate in either of those professions (they demean, degrade, deflate, and murder communities). It is in that instance I felt unsafe in a city, in a state, and in a country I have lived in from birth. I have never committed a crime. I have never succumbed to being a stereotype and I have never disrespected an officer of the law. It is in that moment that I did question what I should do after his response. My pride and integrity were hurt, battered, and I felt like someone had spat in my face.

What does this have to do with safety one might ask? In America we have a view of the world that is relatively different from others who live throughout the world. I would encourage those of us concerned or overly concerned with things like gay marriage, women’s right to choose what they do with their body, and whether or not Nene will leave RHOA to pick a cause that impacts more of us. Take up a cause on education, a cause on better gun laws, and/or laws that protect citizens no matter their race or culture.

I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunities I have had in life, to be able to travel and explore different parts of the world and different cultures and most importantly to learn. In America we like to think we have a considerably “better” standard of living! We are a blessed nation, but we could certainly be better. Be Safe!