Warning: This is not a good blogpost. A few days ago, I was good to go. I had this month’s blogpost in draft form, in need of a little polish, but it was done—it was timely, relevant, I felt pretty good about it—–and then I decided to chuck it.
You see, a few days ago, my life as a blogger, a teacher, a human being was different, all of our lives were different. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and Officers Lorne Abrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa have changed everything. They have me reeling. They have me recognizing the gross insufficiency of my blogpost, and so I’m chucking it to make way for my not-so-good blogpost, not so good because the right words to process this tragedy are simply unavailable, and the full-circle format so satisfying in a blogpost (problem and solution, question and answer) won’t happen this time around. No pat answers or easy solutions here.
After all, how do we even talk about this? Gun violence. Racial injustice. It’s an understatement to say that these are difficult issues to talk about. Do you dare talk about them with your extended family, your co-workers, your students? They are mired in layers of history, race, identity, and socioeconomics. I’m certain that I’m not the only one, fingers on keyboard right now, not knowing which keys to tap, what words to use. But the very fact that these subjects are so hard to broach underscores their complexity and the urgency with which they must be tackled.
So, how can we tackle them? Here’s my not-so-good attempt:
First, Get Upset
The easiest thing to do is nothing: do nothing, say nothing. News happens and life goes on. If you do nothing and say nothing, none of your Facebook friends will be offended; no one will be arguing at the dinner table; there will be no weirdness in the break room at work. But doing nothing and saying nothing is akin to accepting the horrors of last week as “the new norm” as US Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned. Doing nothing and saying nothing is complicity. Our membership in the human race requires more of us.
Second, Say Something, Do Something
As a wife and mother, this means taking about it at the dinner table. As a citizen, this means picking up the phone and calling my representatives to voice my concerns about gun legislation (a topic I find tragically tied to these events). As an English teacher, this means necessarily complicating my teaching of Huck Finn, Things Fall Apart, To Kill a Mockingbird, Othello—to include the gamut of voices on contemporary race issues (Michael Eric Dyson’s recent “Death in Black and White” and others). It means giving my students the tools and the uncomfortable but important opportunity to process these issues in a safe, rational setting (a complex task, but one sorely needed in our world of increasingly uncivil and unbalanced discourse). As an American, this means being a part of a larger conversation, a larger action. And while I’m not certain what that will look like, I’m committed to being a part of it, as difficult and uncomfortable as it’s sure to be.
As teachers, we have many moments of truth. I’m reminded of one such moment faced by a colleague of mine during our Homecoming Parade several years ago. He stepped into the road, preventing two students in a truck donning a giant confederate flag from joining the tail end of our homecoming parade. Aside from being a physical risk, it was a social and professional one. There he was out in the community in which he taught—no time to consult with the principal, superintendent or lawyers—he decided to step in front of the truck and stop a symbol of oppression and racism from being associated with our school and community.
I’m reminded of another moment of truth in recent days by Robert, a former student of mine (how frequently our students become our teachers). Reading his post on Facebook shortly after finishing my original blogpost is what prompted my rewrite. Here are his words:
“I don’t know what to say about it, and I don’t know if I’m qualified to say anything about it. But damn it, staying quiet doesn’t feel right: I am 4 times LESS likely to be killed by the cops than any random black person is. This is not an opinion, this is fact. Because I was born with pasty white pigment, I’ve always felt safe during routine traffic stops. I’ve never carried a weapon, but I’m sure if I did I would be given credit by many for “exercising my second amendment rights.” Of course in a perfect world we should all (no matter our pigment) respect and admire the police. But you do not gain respect and admiration by also being feared. There is no doubt (just look at the stats and our ugly history) black communities have good reason to FEAR the police while white communities largely don’t. Now, I’m not saying all (or even most) cops are racist. What I am saying though, is that there is a systemic problem and police killings of black people happen at a disproportionate rate. And it must stop. If you’re white and this status makes you uncomfortable, it should do more than that. We all should be in this together to demand better.”
I’m proud of his words. I’m proud that he had the courage to struggle with words and contradictions and the complexity of what we cannot allow to become the new norm.
Third: Ask Uncomfortable Questions
My building principal has a saying that I’ve always found helpful. He says that part of his job is to make people uncomfortable. To change, to improve, to grow, we must be uncomfortable with the status quo. I can think of little that’s more uncomfortable than discussing these ideas in a classroom, but the classroom is a microcosm of the world, and choosing silence means accepting the events of last week the status quo.
We have little choice, then, but to ask uncomfortable questions, and there are many:
- What does it mean that President Obama, US District Attorney Loretta Lynch, Dallas Chief of Police David Brown are all African Americans in the highest positions of power in politics, law enforcement and justice, yet our politics and law enforcement and justice systems are mired in racial tensions and inequalities?
- How do we come to terms with the progress we’ve made and the problems that remain?
- What is the relationship between our gun laws and violence? Between patrons bearing arms and police violence perpetrated against them? Between police deaths and gun proliferation?
- What is the majority opinion in America regarding background checks and the legality of assault-type weapons? Is this voice being represented by our legislators?
- What happens when violence escalates, but conditions don’t change? What have other countries—historically and contemporarily—done to curb gun violence?
- What initiatives are in place to examine and improve race relations? What role does segregation play in race relations?
- What role/responsibility does social media play in peace-keeping, accountability, and inciting violence? What role do television and radio media play?
I want to live in a country where we ask the uncomfortable questions, where we relentlessly strive for social justice, where we respect and protect our institutions of law enforcement and justice, where we do what’s required of us as citizens in a democracy.
That’s why as a blogger, a mother, a teacher, a citizen, and a human being, I was required to write this not-so-good blogpost.