Months later, I still can’t figure out how to process the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The week after the shooting, I came close to getting in my car and driving to Missouri to participate in protests against the Ferguson police. I wanted to be there, to see with my own eyes that this was actually happening in our country, because the stories and the images seemed to be more Middle Eastern than American.
Ultimately, I didn’t get into my car, but even from a distance, the events in Ferguson opened my eyes to the realities of life in the United States in a way that only a few key events during my lifetime have done.
Just a few weeks before Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, an old college friend posted a link on Facebook to a story in the Post-Gazette about the quality of life for African American residents of Pittsburgh. I’m ashamed to say that I was shocked by the story, as I have always been proud of the diversity of the city. Having grown up in rural Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh feels diverse, open-minded, culturally progressive and, having been voted so many times, “most livable” of a city for people of all kinds. I didn’t even realize that I was seeing the world through a haze of white privilege.
That article prompted me to start doing some research. Race was something that I never thought about much. If anyone had asked me, I would have insisted that I was staunchly not racist and a strong advocate of race equality. The latter was, in hindsight, an overstatement and the former… I saw a video (which I can no longer find) from a white racial equality advocate who made a compelling case that not being racist requires more than just saying that we’re not. We also need to acknowledge and actively fight against the prejudices that we have grown up around and see and hear all around us. Being a strong advocate for equality is going to require a lot more advocacy on my part.
The bottom line is that I have a lot more work to do.
I plan to make race a bigger topic in upcoming blog posts. I have at least three separate blog posts floating in my head about systemic racism, white privilege and the simple need to talk about race. There’s been more talk about race recently than I can remember in recent years, but I want to appeal to those of you who, perhaps like I did, feel like race can’t be talked about from a place of white privilege. It can – and it should be – as long as we understand where we are coming from and how that position influences our experiences.
Here’s a few videos to get us started.
For now, I want to leave you with two videos. The first is one that I found incredibly helpful for framing my thoughts on how to talk about race. If you follow the rabbit trail from this video to more from Jay Smooth or more from Race Forward, you won’t be sorry, either. Here a prominent New York radio DJ and race expert talks about how to talk about race.
The second one is a recent Daily Show segment on the lack of national statistics on how many citizens are shot by police. This issue originally came to my attention within the week following the shooting of Michael Brown, and I am so glad to see Jon Stewart and team shining a light on the topic.