Why Not Us?

I have been mulling over what to say about the events in Charleston last week, and I just have not been able to find the words to represent myself fully. Now, before you click out of the screen because this is “just another post about Charleston”– stay with me. This is for you, too.

This weekend, I read a blogpost by Jess Connolly that really struck me.

In Jess’s post, she writes an apology to her neighbors. You see, she lives less than 3 miles from Emmanuel AME where Dylan Roof murdered the 9 beautiful souls meeting in the church basement for bible study. She says:

With Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, McKinney Texas – I sat and watched the news, broken. It seemed so clear to me that SOMETHING WAS NOT RIGHT. I grew up seeing racism in my community and friend groups, I knew it in in subtle forms and heard it in vicious words. I didn’t know that many people in my adult life who flaunted it so clearly, but I believed it was real and that it was undergirding so many of the issues that flashed across my news screen. I thought what I saw happening was wrong. Tragic. Bewildering. But I stayed mostly silent.

[…] But then my neighbors were murdered. And it should never have taken that. But I won’t go back. I won’t live in fear. I won’t consider my own self-preservation greater than the worth of my brothers and sisters in Christ and my neighbors of all colors.

I am waving my flag and my palms are up. I haven’t seen surges of racism in my heart, but I have let ignorance and passivity run wild and I am so, so sorry. I have cared so much about the injustice that I see, but I’ve stayed quiet and I haven’t lent my voice or my hands to building a solution.

I cannot begin to express how much of this post reflects my own heart about the racial tension in our country. The tension that is lending itself to more murder, more riots, more hatred, and more divide than we have seen (on a grand scale) in long while. The tension that makes black kids fear white cops. The tension that makes white cops dread going to work. The tension that makes communities paranoid and scared. The tension that needs to stop.

I am unlike Jess Connolly in the fact that I do not live less than 3 miles from the setting of this unjust and disgraceful act. However, I am not far from the conflict in our own city. In fact, most days I feel like I’m in the trenches.

I teach in a high priority high school where 37% of the student population is African American and 47% are Hispanic. These minority students are bewildered by our nation’s actions and uncertain of their future because of the stories the media is spewing at them about how they aren’t safe, cops hate them, and prejudice is king.

In the two years that I have been a teacher, unspeakable violence has occurred toward minorities in our country. This is not something I believe we can ignore in our classrooms, particularly when we are white teachers standing in front of minority students. I think it’s more important than ever before to speak up and say something. 

First, I tell my students that I love them, I believe in them, and there is nothing that can change that. I make it clear that I can never fully understand what they go through on a day-to-day basis. I’ve never been kicked out of a store, eyed suspiciously by a cop, or ridiculed for my heritage. But I can listen and I can give them a safe space to process what has happened and talk it out together.

Before true conversation can begin, I ask them to look into the facts surrounding the events and compare them to the media’s coverage. We not only get to discuss the racial divide, but also the way the media is tainting our view and keeping us from the bigger picture. And then we talk. There is not a unanimous opinion by any means, but it allows for them to have civilized conversation about what is happening and where our country is heading.

At the end of our discussion following the Baltimore riots, one student said: “We’ve got to do something about this.” (Hands down, one of my proudest moments as a teacher.) And we do. So where do we begin?

I think it’s time to have a truly open dialogue in our community about what it looks like to support one another and stand together. As a white female who grew up with more than I could ever ask for, it is not my place to provide the tangible solution because I haven’t experienced what my students have. But together, we can start a conversation.

I don’t want one of my students to become the next Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown. I don’t want my city to spew words of hate. I want to see a city standing united, daring to stare racism square in the face and proclaim that it doesn’t belong here– or anywhere else.

So, how about that conversation? I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and talk about where to go from here. We have to start somewhere. Why not us, now, here?

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