As Michael Brown was being gunned down by a police officer on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri, I was enjoying a free summer concert in the park, enjoying the very loud but happy bounce of zydeco music, played by predominantly white musicians, for a predominantly white crowd, in a predominantly white neighborhood.
It's stunning to think about the America I was enjoying at the very same moment an 18-year-old kid—the totality of his protective gear being his black skin—was hunted by a man gripping a gun and suited up in centuries of law specifically designed to protect someone wearing white skin.
Though my news feed over the next 36 hours would become an electronic river of devastating articles and op-eds about Brown—and John Crawford III (killed by Ohio police), Ezell Ford (killed by California police) and the retread from way back on July 17, 2014, Eric Garner (killed by New York police)—I couldn't bring myself to look just yet.
It's no wonder I didn't immediately submit myself to the collective horrors of what was unfolding in Ferguson until after the weekend was over. The injustices against black Americans in particular get to be too much to hold, something my black friends have voiced in the past and probably part of the reason why certain things that have infuriated me (the UCSD Compton Cookout of 2010 comes to mind) tend to register as a shoulder shrug and a yeah-it-happens-all-the-time-what-of-it reaction in them. Black Americans don't have the choice to step in and out of the black experience like we do—OK, Iggy Azelea and Katy Perry? And paging Lululemon: Please just quit with the "Rollin with my om'ies" yoga gear already.
White people like you and me, dear CityBeat reader, have the privilege not to deal with any of the race realities if we don't want to. Such blindness probably accounts at least in part for the fact that, according to the Pew Research Center, only 37 percent of whites think blacks are treated unfairly when dealing with the police. This is compared with 70 percent of blacks living in their America.
Hey, speaking of fairness, have you heard about the white dude in New Orleans who was shot dead by police back in April after he pointed a gun at them and screamed, "No, you drop your fucking gun!" when they told him to disarm? No? Maybe that's because he wasn't shot dead; he was taken into custody. Just like that white guy who killed 12 people at a screening of Batman in Aurora, Colorado. Imagine an America where a black man in either scenario is cuffed and taken to jail. Can you picture it? Me, neither.
As it turns out, apathy—even with the most noble of intentions—is an irresponsible choice with dangerous repercussions. In a timely piece, StoryCorps captured the ramifications for transracially adopted people who have not been exposed to honest race dialogue. Five years ago, at age 19, Alex Landau, who is black, was inexplicably beaten beyond recognition by police. His bloodied image is disturbing, but even more so when placed next to the smiling one of him and his white mother who never talked about race when Landau was growing up.
"I thought that love would conquer all and skin color really didn't matter," she said to her son. "I had to learn the really hard way when they almost killed you."
I feel his mother's pain, but the person who had to learn the hard way was Landau.
Adoptive parents of black children risk their kids' lives by taking the love-is-enough approach, because they won't be protected by our white-privilege force field forever. Making race irrelevant is a betrayal of them, and if we want to prepare them, we have to talk about blackness the way black parents talk to their kids. We have to learn from the black community how best to prepare our kids, because even those who say, "Hands up, don't shoot!" can find themselves face down on a sidewalk bleeding from the head.
But this is still not sufficient. White parents of children born to them should be having the same conversations. All white people, kids or not, should be in serious dialogue right now about what's going down in that other America, asking themselves if they are truly OK with things as they are. And if they're not—if we're not—then what, exactly, do we plan to do about it?
My particular challenge in living unveiled among so many white people who want to carry on as if "democracy had a win"—as someone wrote on Facebook after the Ferguson police force was replaced by the Missouri Highway Patrol—is to continue speaking out against such naiveté, to keep pushing those in my white tribe to get over their guilt, get in touch with their humanity and be active agents for justice.
I won't stop when those folks struggling to get right with their own biases and racism become uncomfortable. I won't stop when they're so triggered that they react by trying to shame, patronize or insult me.
I'm going to keep doing it even if, at times, I get it wrong and even if people cross the room to get away from me. Even if I lose friends. Because I'm not satisfied with people being gunned down in the street while I sip an illicit cup of Pinot Grigio from the safety of a park in a certain kind of American neighborhood.