The truth is uncomfortable…personal journeys and racial tensions

“When grounded in truthfulness, action and its fruition depend on him.”Yoga Sutra 2:36
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The truth. It sounds so simple. Yet to be truthful with ourselves and the world around us requires a level of intestinal fortitude that, frankly, most of us (including yours truly) struggle with. After all, the truth can be uncomfortable and even scary at times.

As I grapple with an ever-changing personal life mired in the midst of early mid-life changes, I find at times (with increasingly frequency) that certain truths have become more fluid for me. It is often easier to play moral gymnastics than to sit in a stew of discomfort. Yet our culture as a whole struggles with truth, even when those truths are loudly proclaimed and factually accurate.

One of the reasons that racial tensions remain problematic in the United States is because far too many White Americans are averse to hearing people of color, especially Black Americans, talk about the realities of race as it is lived for non-white people. Dr. Robin Di Angelo, who is an associate professor of multicultural and social justice education, refers to this phenomenon as “white fragility.” That is most certainly one way to refer to it.  Yet on a deeper level, we all have a level of fragility that keeps the truth from seeping in because to allow certain truths to penetrate our being means that we must face life as it is and not as we wish it to be. Our culture thrives on the “how it should be” and not the “how it really is.”

Yet depending on the nature of the truth that we are hiding from, the cost of our denial can be harmful. Personal and private denial of truth may only harm us, whereas mass denial of truth can rip at the very fabric of a society. This past weekend, Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States, gave a commencement speech at Tuskegee University where she spoke honestly about her struggles as a Black woman and as the First Black Lady in the country.  Of course, a certain segment of the population found fault with her words, but for the majority of Black women in the country, she spoke the truths that we live with daily. However, most of us don’t have a platform to share the realities we face and even when we do…well, our reality is often questioned or denied.

The collective truth for the majority of Black Americans is that America is not the bright and shining place that it is for our White counterparts. Yet that harsh truth is simply indigestible to many. No matter how many think pieces are written, studies are conducted and personal stories are shared, White America struggles with truth and would rather attack the messenger as in the case of incoming Boston University professor Saida Grundy who is under fire for a series of tweets on white supremacy and structural inequity.

However to live without truth, whether it is the acceptance of larger truths or our own personal truth, is a denial of humanity. When we deny the humanity of ourselves or others, we cause harm. At some point, we have to decide: Do we want to cause harm?  Once we know that we are causing harm, we are faced with choices that only we can make. As for me, the truth is not fun, yet it is necessary to my own personal growth. I suspect in the larger sphere, the sooner the truth is accepted, we will move toward collective growth and maturity as a nation. Until then, we live a half-life where some beings are valued over beings and others will continue to struggle for inclusion at the table of humanity.

Trayvon 2012…stop the assault on brown and black boys

I have said it before but I am going to say it again, while raising kids in general is hard, it’s a job that is a lot harder when you are raising boys of color in the US. When raising a young man of color, it’s almost as if you are doing so with that double consciousness that W.E.B DuBois spoke of so many years ago. For me that meant raising my now 20 year old with a parental mindset but sadly with the knowledge that one day he would not be seen as just a kid but that he will be seen as a potential suspect. I am sure for some of you that very concept may seem strange but to anyone raising a young man of color, you are probably nodding your head.

Four years ago, when my son 16 one early evening he took a walk down to the local convenience snack shop to grab a bite to eat, nothing extraordinaire about that fact. Hell, teenagers often go out to grab a bite to eat! Well my son grabbed a steak and cheese sandwich and an iced tea and proceeded to walk back home as he had done many times before. However not even a block away from the store a cop stopped him, demanding to see what was in hands and then proceeded to tell him he looked like a suspect they were looking for who had been burglarizing cars. Before he knew it, he was in the back of the cop car and being driven home by the cops who wanted to talk to his parents. Never mind that my son wasn’t at my house fulltime, my son by then knew to say very little, he stated his name and the fact he was 16. Well the local cop pulled up in our driveway but not before implying that he was dubious that my son really lived where he said he did.

As fate would have it, I was out at a meeting so the Spousal Unit opened the door and quickly proceeded to ask the cop what the hell was he doing and also explaining he did not appreciate him harassing our son. In the end the cop apologized but not before the hubster expressed that he was dubious of the cop which resulted in the cop telling the hubster that he was friends with people of all races.

By the time I got home and the story was shared with me, I was ready to go to the police station to tear a new asshole in the captain and everyone else. My son asked me to let it go, but as a mother that situation disturbed me. What if this wasn’t a smaller town and the cop was trigger happy? I would have come home to a dead 16 year old son. Of course as the years have gone on, my son has had many more run ins with police both in New England and the Midwest. Never any charges but always the you look suspicious charge. Once driving back to his Dad’s from college he was stopped two times on the same drive. Sad to say if you think what my son faces is an isolated incident you couldn’t be more mistaken.

Fast forward to Trayvon Martin, a teenager in Florida visiting his Dad who decided to go to the convenience store and sadly never made it home. It seems after picking up some Skittles for a sibling and an iced tea, Trayvon crossed paths with the neighborhood watch leader that felt a teenage boy armed with skittles and an iced tea was so dangerous he had to pull out his 9mm gun and George Zimmerman the watch leader shot him dead. Zimmerman claims that he and Trayvon got into a scuffle and that he feared for his safety so much so that he had to shoot a child.

Let me say that having been the mother of a teenage boy that while on the surface they may look big, the fact is one good look at their faces generally reveals the child they really are and why in 2012 couldn’t Zimmerman pick up the phone and call 911?

Trayvon’s story is starting to get out but let me ask where’s the outrage? What happened to Trayvon is not that unique other than the fact normally it’s the police that harm young men of color, in this case we have an overzealous community member who decided to take the law into his own hands. Frankly when I heard what happened to Trayvon my blood ran cold because I could easily see Trayvon as my own boy. Just a boy going out and doing what kids do.

Last week the world was on fire about Joseph Kony with the whole Kony2012 campaign and while what happened to the children in Uganda is an outrage and Kony needs to be caught what about the kids in our own country? Every day brown and black boys in this country are under assault, from cops that would gladly lock our boys up to teachers who deny their humanity and slap an ill-fitting label on them.

I say we need Trayvon2012, stop the brutality against brown and black boys in this country and stop it now. Look in the mirror and face our own internal biases that allow us to look at the brown and black boys close to us as monsters and realize that it is systematic racism that allows this to happen.

So let me add Trayvon2012 to Kony2012 to bring awareness to the plight of boys of color in this country.

PS: The suspect the cops were looking when they stopped my son turned out to be a good 6 inches shorter and several shades lighter.