Yesterday, we went for a bike ride through our small town here in the mountains. We picked up our young American born Jamaican friend who moved here from Texas with his mom and dad when he was two. The boys were riding on the sidewalks, hopping on and off the curb, and I said to them both, “We shouldn’t ride our bikes on sidewalks. You could easily startle a person pushing a stroller with a baby or an elderly person just walking because they won’t hear you coming up behind them.”
My son, always more on the cusp of devil than angel, says, “We like to startle people,” grinning at his friend, “making people nervous is fun!”
Both boys then giggled like maniacs, and I said, “Well, that may be true, but get off the sidewalks.” Then I wondered for a moment as we pedaled down a side street at the innocence of his words. Remove our town. Remove their youth. Replace them with older boys on a different street in America. What consequences would “making people nervous” have for each one?
Check out this article Overt and Systemic Racism by Emily Cobb Henry my Connecticut College friend and fellow teacher wrote to better explain the difference between overt and systemic racism.
“…But here’s the thing: there are millions more Amy Coopers than there are crooked cops. And it’s the Amy Cooper-like behaviors that lead to the deaths of people like George Floyd. *That’s* actually where racism is most insidiously present… and yet, we often avoid or ignore or dismiss it, because it doesn’t fit our preconceived definition of what racism is.
And that’s an enormous part of the problem.
Racism doesn’t have to look like a white cop kneeling on a Black man’s neck – while his fellow officers stand idly by – ignoring his gasping pleas for air and water, until the man is dead.
It doesn’t have to look like swastikas and hoods or calling someone the N word.
That’s overt racism – the kind we all condemn and are horrified by. But overt racism is not usually what’s killing Black and brown Americans. Rather, it’s systemic, institutional racism and implicit bias – which keep the balance of power tipped forever toward white folks and create a world where people of color are constantly, often subconsciously, viewed as lesser, as scary, as threats – that are the bigger issue…”
While you are reading, check this out too. A local NH English teacher and father of three living in Campton, NH, Benjamin Bacote published this letter to the community where he lives.
“…You can make a yard sign, you can attend a vigil, you can send a black person a positive message knowing that their life is full of anxiety right now. You have all the resources at your fingertips to learn how to help in big and small ways. Don’t allow this silence to make you complicit. I may be sick because I believed when told All People Are Created Equal, I may be sick because I believe in the democratic ideals this country was founded on. To be perfectly honest, I may be out of my goddamn mind to think that anyone reading this will find these words ringing true. BUT, I really hope not. For god’s sake, I hope not. For my kids, and for yours, I hope I’m not crazy. Please help me by standing with me in this moment of time. Have these conversations with your families that force you to reckon with the racial trauma of your pasts, call out that family member for that inappropriate comment, don’t allow a moment further to pass and another tragic upheaval to have these conversations with me where we are indeed true about ending white supremacy, extending humanity, and fostering equality for all. If you are interested in taking part in local direct action, contact me. If you want to work fostering lifelong change, contact me. If you want to have a conversation to deepen your understanding or relationship to racial perception, experience, trauma, or to share your feelings and engage in a dialectic, contact me. Talk to all of the people in your life…”
He tell us to contact him at the end if we want to “deepen” our understanding, so I did, and we began a dialogue. As teachers and parents, we must read and read and read and learn what we can as none of us can solve these problems of “racial perception” without hard conversations and good questions and collaboration. I participated in a webinar two weeks ago through the International Literacy Association called “How to Raise and Teach Anti-Racist Kids: A Virtual Town Hall” which included writers and teachers. Here I learned the phrase “Radically Pro-kids” explained by Cornelius Minor, a writer who recently published We Got This: Cornelius Minor on Teachers as Agents of Change. Want to listen to a thought provoking podcast?
“…So, if family separation threatens opportunity for my kids, then I’ve got to be against that. If access to health care threatens opportunities for my kids, then I’ve got to be against that. If kids can’t have access to healthcare, and it’s abridging opportunities, then I’ve got to figure out how do I stand on the side of history, the side of law, the side of politics, in order to make sure that my kids have the things that they need in order to be successful, in order to access opportunities. And, for me, it’s been really powerful to see….”
A friend shared this website http://www.raceconscious.org, specifically this article with me, “100 Race-conscious Things You Can Say to Your Child to Advance Social Justice”, and I’ve only just begun to explore all that it has to offer, but I can tell you it offers a lot. Read some of what it shares and see if helps you with conversations with your own kids or your students at school or even, shhhh, your parents at home if you are one of my younger readers!
I am proud of our local police officers here in New Hampshire, who are our community heroes working hard each day modeling how to build relationships with young people and old people alike and not the ones reflected in the news each week for their brutal and deadly treatment of humans. There are bad police officers out there– just as there are bad drivers and humans who litter and people who abuse children and animals. It’s okay to believe Black Lives Matter and still be proud of the police officers we know and believe in. These do not need to be mutually exclusive.
And for weeks now, I’ve wanted to write something, but the words would not come until our son’s new fish had his eyeballs eaten out by another fish in our 55 gallon tank. These harsh life lessons occur in nature, and, when it does, the fish without eyes dies. He can’t see his food to survive. However, when our son googled “how to care for blind fish” he looked up at us, a cross between devastation and hope, “Well, believe it or not,” he says, sounding like an old man, “there isn’t a lot on the internet about caring for blind fish.” No kidding, I mouth silently to myself. “But, he says, “I found one article that recommended tapping on the edge of the tank until the fish swims to the top. Then we feed it.”
My husband and I believed 100% this fish would not live out the week. However, not only did he survive, he appears to be growing well, as well as one does living in a fish tank without eyes. He is separated from the other fish with a divider, and Carver tends to him twice daily, tap, tap, tapping, until the fish hears the noise, feels the tank vibrations and chows down. “Mom, we just had to help him see a different way,” and suddenly given the course of the last month’s protests for social injustice and news footage, I’m crying. Again. It’s so simple, really, how do we help people to see another way? We tap on the tank and shake the bubble we live in really loudly– sometimes we even break the glass tapping so hard for people to hear.
The same week our daughter received some new paint brushes and an art desk for her 9th birthday. I watched her take items out of packages and organize them on her new desk, taking each new brush and bending down the stiff bristles. “Mom,” she explains, “do you know about waking up the brushes?”
“No, why do you have to wake up the brushes?”
“Mom, I’ve always known you have to wake up the brushes so the bristles flow better into your colors. This helps with blending actually– the colors won’t clog as much if you wake up the brushes right out of the package.” Go figure. I didn’t know. Until now.
Tap the glass. Tap loudly. Talk. Wake up the brushes. Ask questions. Read. Make suggestions for conversations. Last week, I joined the NAACP. Today, I hung up our new American Flag, proud to be an American, but we can be better. Be safe out there this 4th of July!