Tag Archives: racism

How to not advance a dialogue for change feat. NYPD

Headline from ABC News: “Hundreds Turn Their Back on de Blasio at NYPD Officer’s Funeral”


Seriously, guys? I’m so frustrated by the NYPD’s reaction to Mayor DeBlasio acknowledging the conversations he and his wife have had with their son. This how to block dialogue and change. Police are not Klansmen. They are also not perfect. Acknowledging their imperfection is not equivalent to accusing them all of wearing white hoods and being cops because they are intent on decimating the black race. People are people. People have biases. When did it become offensive and disrespectful of their sacrifice to acknowledge that? They are no more or less perfect than any other people working in any other profession. There are medical malpractice suits when doctors make mistakes because doctors should always be trying to provide the best care possible. Why are the police so angry about being asked to provide the best care possible of the citizens they are supposed to protect?


We are way past body cameras and changing lightbulbs

I recently heard climate activist Bill McKibben speak. The central point of his whole speech was that we are beyond the point where individual actions to combat climate change make a difference. You and everyone you know can change to CFL lightbulbs and drive hybrid cars and we are still totally screwed by melting ice sheets and fracking and the Koch Brothers.

That’s how I feel about body cameras. Did the Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and John Crawford III cases fail to prove that catching the police on video in the act of killing a black person is not enough for their actions to be considered criminal under the law?

This is about police, yes. Racial profiling is a real thing. It can be statistically proven by policies like New York’s stop and frisk as well as explained anecdotally by any number of people of color. I want to say “any person of color anywhere” out of frustration, but hesitate to lump all POCs into one monolithic experience, since of course they are not.

But at the same time, this is not about police. As the brilliant writer Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, it is unfair to point fingers at the police as this uniquely racist body of the American work force. The police are, in general, regular random people who were raised in the same country watching the same television programs and news sources, reading the same books, learning the same version of history as all the rest of us. Whatever racism we see played out in police actions is only a manifestation of the unconscious biases we all harbor – except most of us are not armed and not in the position to confront people we think of, consciously or unconsciously, as dangerous.

Police reforms? Absolutely. But how about some reforms to our mainstream media as well? First of all, no one should ever be allowed to say the words “black crime” on television or in print ever again. There is no type of crime that is uniquely black and by labeling it in that way, we buy into the black pathology – the idea that crime and danger in poor communities of color are due to the inferior moral quality of the people who live there as opposed to ridiculously difficult economic circumstances, which, by the way, were very intentionally designed by our government’s housing and labor policies and are perpetuated by our criminal justice system. (Research consistently shows that one of the strongest predictors of not engaging in crime is having access to quality steady employment, not the number of police officers in the neighborhood). Which is another thing that needs reform, along with the way that our public schools receive funding based on property taxes and the content of our curriculum, which emphasizes white authors and actors throughout history and tells events through their lens. Yeah, it’s about the police, but before the police officers were officers they had mothers and fathers and teachers and books and television shows and the real question we need to ask is why did none of those sources of information try to fight against the all too prevalent stereotype in America that being a black man (or boy, in the case of Tamir Rice) is synonymous with dangerous criminal?

If you are going to protest the police, then you should also protest that former mayor Rudy Giuliani said to Michael Eric Dyson (who is black) on national television that the reason there are so many white police officers in black neighborhoods is because “you won’t stop killing each other.” There will be no actual changes to behavior or policy until there is a paradigm shift in mindset, and we are a long way away from that.

Why I can’t breathe when #icantbreathe stops trending

In July of 2014, Eric Garner died after being brought to the ground and held in a choke hold by a police officer. On the news, the fact that the choke hold is against department policy for the NYPD was a huge source of discussion. Sean Hannity even went so far as to explain that, as a martial arts specialist, he was sure it wasn’t a chokehold.

In response I say, who cares? Thanks to the random man video taping (who, incidentally, was later indicted for possessing a firearm, although the circumstances are suspicious enough that a conspiracy theory about police teaching a lesson to anyone who tries to get them in trouble seems reasonable), you can watch Eric Garner’s death on camera. No indictment. Why does it matter if that was an illegal move or not if it killed someone who was posing no actual threat to the officers or other civilians?

In the aftermath of the grand jury decision, I was unable to think about or talk about anything else, and so I just read and watched everything that I could find. As someone who lives in an isolated area, I took a lot of comfort in social media. Seeing my friends of all races posting #icantbreathe and links to protests and articles and blog posts made me feel like people were noticing and caring, like maybe something would change.

I was distressed the next day to find a Kim Kardashian hashtag had made its way into the top 3 on my Facebook tab of what was trending. One weekend of distress for the death of an unarmed black man, and then we all go back to our regularly scheduled bullshit, I thought. Or we move on to a new tragedy, the most recent being the school massacre in Peshawer, Pakistan.


Is it possible to hold the injustice of the American criminal “justice” system and systemic racism as a central priority while also being devastated by the events in Peshawer and worried about climate change and deportation of undocumented children and abortion rights and sexual assault on college campuses? How do we keep living our lives when there are so many tragedies and injustices permeating every aspect of our lives?

But lately, the question I keep asking myself is should we? Isn’t it possible that our capacity to put aside whatever is troubling in the world and to focus on the mundane details of preparing next day lunches and walking the dog what allows these systems of oppression to go unchecked?


“American Gothic” or how coloring in art class makes you realize you are different

I went to the same tiny private school from kindergarten to eighth grade where I was the only one in my grade with a non-white parent. I was also the only one with curly hair, and in my mind, those two things held equal weight.

We used to do a project in art class every year in anticipation of parents’ night at our school. We would all make our own version of the same piece of art, and the teacher would leave it at our desks for our parents to admire our fledgling artistic talents.

Only one of these assignments is lodged in my memory: in first grade, we studied the painting “American Gothic.” For parents night, we each drew our own version of the iconic work featuring our parents instead of the farmer and his wife. Despite the fact that at the time I drew always people with arms that stuck out at 90 degree angles from their bodies and block-shaped torsos, my parents were the only ones who could identify their child’s drawing on parents’ night. As all the other families milled around the room trying to guess which picture of a skinny blonde woman next to a balding white man was drawn by their child, my parents were cracking up. There was, after all, only one drawing in the room of a person whose skin color had been drawn with a brown marker.

They came home and laughed about it, but the fact that I still remember that night means it must have been more than funny.

“Yes, he’s my real brother,” and other commonly repeated phrases to explain myself

When I was about eight, my parents sent me to a camp that my older siblings had both gone to and loved. I did not want to go, but I did not have a choice. I was miserable at this camp and just wanted to go home. The only somewhat saving grace of this experience was that my older brother was by then a counselor at the same camp, so I would occasionally run into him during the day. We were never especially close, but he knew I didn’t like it there, and he’s a nice guy, so he would always act excited to see me.

One day, I was walking around with my group, transitioning between art and swimming, when I saw my brother. I darted away from my group to go hug him. He asked how my day was going and sent me on my way. When I rejoined my group, another camper turned to me and said, “Why were you hugging that guy?” I said, “Oh, that’s my brother.” “No he isn’t.” “What? Yes he is.” “He is not your brother.” “Yes he is!” “No he isn’t!”

*          *          *

Adults sometimes pick arguments with an agenda: they are angry, they want to make the other person cry. Little kids are not that nuanced. They argue because they are sure that they are right. How could she be so sure she was right that he was not my brother? Who thinks they are going to win that argument?

Ah, but wait. The crucial missing piece of information:

I come from a mixed race family. If you don’t know our parents, you will assume I am just white and that my brother is black. Neither of us looks particularly “racially ambiguous,” a term my (black) father is very fond of.

Here are the five most annoying ways you can respond to someone telling you that their ethnicity is not what you expected:

1. “REALLY?!”

2. “You ARE?!”

3. “I never would have guessed!”

4. “But you don’t look __[insert the ethnicity you that just said you were here]__ at all!”

5. “Are you adopted?”

In my life, I have met zero white people who have not been surprised to hear that I am actually biracial (see? I wrote “actually” – the permanent surprise has become part of my syntax). Probably 95% of them have reacted in one of the five ways listed above. I have gotten so used to this surprise that I anticipate their reactions by prefacing my statement with “I know I don’t look like it but…”

On the other hand, people of color not always as surprised. One time I met a black woman at the conference and when I told her, “I’m actually half-black, weirdly enough,” she said, “Why is that weird?”

It has to do with the whole slave-ancestry thing: even in a family where both parents are brown, the children can have such a wide range of skin tones that everyone knows a light-skinned person of color who looks almost white.