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Friday, July 8, 2016

Black Friday

The day after law enforcement officers were gunned down in Dallas is a sad one. This followed unbelievable incidents involving shooting deaths of young black men by police the previous day. We have a lot to process.

I am so impressed with the reaction of celebrities, political leaders, friends, and colleagues to the horrific and ongoing horrors perpetrated against the black community. The depth, sensitivity and honesty in reactions warms my heart. I am humbled by others and feel I simply can't add to the commentary in a meaningful way. These are not new incidents (never miss a chance to invoke Bruce Springsteen). They are just on video. Like photos of black lynchings, with smiling KKK members posing with pride, the imagery of brutality is unfathomable and jarring.

But we have a choice: Don't react and be complicit, or react and risk being misunderstood for offering up empty platitudes and not understanding. I will choose the latter.

From an emotional standpoint, as an ally, I can't say it any better than white Trinity alumna Kaela Dickens from her Facebook post yesterday: 

"To my friends of color, I am so sorry. I am so sorry that you may fear for your life in what should be completely safe situations. I am so sorry you have to worry about being perceived as dangerous, simply because of the way you look. I do not know what it is like to live in that reality. I recognize my exceptionalism. I wish I could give it up to keep you safe.

I will not tire from loving you, from working to spread understandi
ng and peace, from demanding justice, from inciting real change, and from standing WITH you, my precious, strong friends."  

The number of posts from my black friends on Facebook have overwhelmed me as they speak out in fear, anger, sadness, shock, hurt, confusion, frustration, fatigue, hopelessness, and wisdom. I know, this sounds dangerously close to saying "I have a black friend..." But my work has brought me close to our students of color and my profession is very diverse. I have evolved and learned much from them and the issues they face. I'm not done.

My young black female friend and colleague, Amma Marfo posted this

"I've been touched and floored by the number of friends, White and non, who have reached out to check in on me. Many have asked what they can do to help, or have expressed an interest in knowing what they can do. I didn't have an answer for a long time, but I have one now.
Use your voice in places where it counts. If you truly feel that police brutality against Black and Brown bodies is wrong, say so. Loudly, often, and in places where it counts. Vote against politicians that turn a blind eye to it. Vote against politicians who have stances that would make this state-sanctioned violence. And challenge friends and family members who believe this isn't a problem, or that the people perpetrating these acts are justified in doing so. They aren't. They aren't, they aren't, they aren't. Speak up. Loudly, often, and where it counts."

Professionally, I need to work to help our students feel that they are physically and emotionally safe here. I need them, my family, friends, and colleagues to know I won't be silent. I have been reading their posts and I think I can offer up some of the things I have read, interpreted, and felt. For those wondering what we can do, here are some thoughts:

1. Political views aside, listen to our President and allow him to lead. We are blessed to have an intelligent and compassionate leader who communicates with grace, candor, and integrity. Support him.

2. We have to educate ourselves, all the time. Books aside, there are terrific voices out there in the media. I particularly like two people who spoke at Trinity in the past. If you are on Twitter, follow Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) and Tim Wise (@timjacobwise). On CNN, Van Jones is emerging as a tremendous commentator and spokesperson (@vanjones68). And follow the aforementioned young Amma Marfo (@ammamarfo).

3. Listen a lot and avoid the urge to say "yeah, but..." Just listen. Sure, there are anecdotes everywhere about good and bad white and black people. The issue is bigger than that and individual stories illustrate the problems but are symptomatic of bigger issues.

4. Check on your friends of color and ask them how they feel and tell them you care.

5. Ask questions, raise issues, challenge... Don't swallow thoughts and feelings. Take risks by talking about hard and difficult topics.

6. Don't counter "Black Lives Matter" with "All Lives Matter." Others have said this better than I. All lives do matter, of course. But not all lives are lived with the same risk of having violence perpetrated against them at any time based on the color of their skin.

7. We have no problem celebrating the greatness of our forefathers on Independence Day. So let's acknowledge the shame they brought our nation through slaving. We have to accept both and acknowledge our heritage brought people here against their will. We are suffering the evolving consequences of a real legacy. 

8. Acknowledge that systemically we have a society that honors privilege; that there is not equal access to quality education; that poor education can lead to poverty which can lead to crime; and acknowledge the unfairness of the criminal justice system. Blaming people for the circumstances they were born into is unfair.

9. Vote for those who have agendas to fight these systems that are not in any way equitable. Don't worry about getting what's yours, worry about everyone getting theirs. The American dream should be for everyone.

10. Empathize. I used to lead a program called Archie Bunker's Neighborhood. Essentially, random groups were assigned to occupy unequal parcels of space and have unequal access to supplies and resources to build a community. Inevitably those in the privileged, larger space were oblivious to the other communities, and constructed lavish parks and residences. Those in the poorer community with less space always ended up chanting, singing, and knocking down cardboard structures in the other areas. If people can feel this level of frustration in an EXERCISE in an hour, imagine a lifetime of it. Then do something to help shift the social and political systems that reinforce and perpetuate these environments.

To summarize, I felt like an impostor at last week's Pride parade and feel the same now. I can go home and still be straight, and white. I have little credibility. When we see our black students or communities gather together it's not because they are racist, it's because they can't ever shed their color and their heritage. They live in their own skin all the time. So, I hope none of my words are offensive, tone deaf, self-serving, or preachy. If so, I apologize. Push back. Educate me. Like most, I just have nothing else to offer.

1 comment:

Richard Egley said...

You have spoken from your heart, mind and soul. I am blessed and grateful be your friend and colleague. Your points on what to do are right on target. In these troubling, dangerous and challenging times, I hope that your assessments and challenges are shared with all who have an open heart and mind. Well said, Dean Tuttle. Someone is giving you a standing O in Pennsylvania.