I ask the students how they would rather be viewed by others? The black list or the white list? Then, we stand a dark-skinned person in class next to a light-skinned person. In seconds, the life experiences of these two individuals become visible to the entire room. It is clear that some people in our society are seen as more valuable, better, less dangerous while others are seen as less valuable, not as good, more dangerous.
The class unanimously agrees that our justice system is flawed, biased and that racial profiling exists. Many will share experiences that attest to this idea. When asked which student is likely to have more trouble with law enforcement, most agree it is the dark-skinned student. There is not a case to be made that a white person will have a harder time with the police than a black person. Students will try. What about the gender of the person? The race of the cop? The neighborhood? What's the violation? In the end, most agree, none of that matters. White will trump black every time.
We will likely never know exactly what caused Darren Wilson to kill Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And, when asked if he would have done anything differently had Brown been white, of course Wilson will say "No". He believes that to be true. Therein lies the problem with 21st century racism in America. It is insidious, unconscious and often unintentional. It would be interesting to know how many good friends Officer Wilson has that are black. Black people have a different experience in our society, and black people have been trying to articulate that experience for decades.
If white people are ever going to truly understand what it is like to be black in America, then white people have to be willing to listen to black people. This is the learning opportunity of Ferguson and of Michael Brown's legacy. The fact that most white people view Officer Wilson as "doing his job" and most black people view this same officer as "a murderer" is telling. The perspectives for each group are real, and this is their truth. We do live in multiple Americas, and the only way we will ever get to one America with equality and justice for all is to listen and to learn from those perspectives and experiences that are different from our own. Michael Brown's parents aren't wrong for believing their son to be deserving of value in our society, that he did not deserve to be slaughtered on the very streets he called home. If we don't understand that, it is incumbent upon us to listen and to learn not only from these two parents, but the hundreds of thousands of others just like them who share similar stories about their black sons and daughters.
Be kind to each other and to yourself.
© Copyright 2014 Douglas Layer, M.A., LPCC