We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools.~ Martin Luther King Jr.
"I guess my answer would've been different if I hadn't seen "Selma". I watched "Selma" last week with Senator Hughes and his wife and a bunch of other people and we had a panel discussion about what we were going to see. I just finished writing a piece about this. Let me tell you what my point of view is: it's unconscionable to me that people died, were beaten and humiliated and treated like dirt under someone's feet and that you had a government that was fighting the President of the United States at the time, to make sure that we did not have the right to vote. To 2015 where we have the right to vote and we just completely ignore it. So in one sense, I feel like we've come a long way, in another sense I feel like we've kicked ourselves and pushed our own selves back. Because if we were taking voting responsibly, showing up at the polls, when we needed to, instead of 10-15% after all our ancestors had done to get us this right, then we wouldn't be having Fergusons and what's going on in New York City and what's going on a around the country. Because we would have people in office that would take our demands seriously because they would see that we were clientele that were coming out to vote and they would take our words responsibly. I am from another place, so my perspective has always been one of where I was born and raised, and for me, education is completely important. That you give back, community is completely important. For me, I'm frustrated. I'm completely frustrated by what I see on many levels. I see disenfranchisement for people of color, but I also see it for people who are poor, for people who are marginalized because they may have autism. If you don't fit into that tiny space, in that tiny window of normalcy, or that crowd, or whatever it is that they deemed appropriate to fit into that window, then 95% of us are just sitting on the peripheral waiting and hoping for goodness to come our way. This is probably a bad day to be talking to me about this because I have been thinking about it."
MAYBE IT'S A GOOD DAY THEN.
"I've been thinking about it a lot. For instance, we have our social media pages and I wish we would use them more responsibly. Everything I put on my page is intentional. Everything. Down to the potpourri of "mister" (the love of her life). Because in a sense, there's people on my page that believe people of color don't have normal families; That our sons are jail birds; That we're not married; That we're not educated; So everything I post is about the normalcy that happens in a regular, everyday family, except that we happen to be black. People are dying to meet "mister" because they've had this entire visual of this wonderful man who is an educator, he has five degrees, he's smart, he's funny, he gets on my nerves, all of it. I want people to see the human before they see "mister". It may seem like I'm just posting, but I'm very intentional. Do you know how hard it is to raise children of color in this country?"
"We're told that if our children pull their pants up; that if we take them to pre-school and teach them all the words that they need to know by the time they get to kindergarten; we're told that if we keep them out of trouble and that we've done all the right things, that America will be just fine with them. That is just not true. I've done all of those things and then some. Both of my children came out of school with no detentions or suspensions. Neither one of them sagged their pants. And yet they're still targeted. They're targeted by teachers who don't believe they can do well. They're targeted by people outside in our authority that look at them and see the color of their skin instead of the beautiful, wonderful souls that they are. And it is now my charge, as a mother, and I tell them this all the time, "Don't be bitter. Get better." Every time someone targets you, in some (negative) way, do not take that and turn it into (bitterness). Turn it into "now how am I gonna turn this into something better for my life and those around me?" That's what I have to teach my kids every day. I worry about my kids everyday. As long as things stay the way they are in this country, then there's always this fear that we walk around with. It's unfair, but it's our lives. So what do we do?"
HOW HAVE YOUR CHILDREN BEEN TARGETED?
"My 22 year old had his hand broken by a cop when he was 15. Called a nigger. And then when we fought it, cause they met the wrong mother, when I filed the formal complaints against the police department, they called over here (the township) to where I live to find out what they had on this kid, but my kid had never been in trouble. We finally got to court, they wanted to take it to the youth aid panel, which they give to first time offenders. But I was like "No thank you. He didn't offend anybody. He didn't do anything. He asked you a question and you called him a nigger and threw him to the ground and broke his hand." For him, I just said to him "You just continue to do well in school. We will fight your battle for you." It took a year. But when that cop got into court the first time, he said that my son threw a bottle at a little white girl, he was careful to say a little white, blonde hair, blue eyed girl who was under two and that he could've damaged her and given her a concussion. The people that were in the courtroom who were there, not only (did they say) nobody was near the trashcan (where the bottle was tossed), but that everybody was on the other side. (It was at June fete). And so my kid turned around and said to me "Mom, can they get away with that?" And that was the first time he realized that the system was not fair. I told him not to worry. The judge, when my son got up on the stand, looked at him and said "I'm dismissing one charge. You're going to have to go to the higher court for the other charge." So I said ok. So we went up there, same thing happened. Judge looked at the cop and was like "it's not computing. Here's a kid that has never been in trouble. His grades are good. And he's in the honors program at school." So the judge found him not guilty. But it took a year of being in the system. The cop walked up with his head down, he knew he was lying. But he knew the odds were in his favor that they would believe him and not my child. Our children have to live almost perfect in the system. When my son was ready to drive at 16, he was afraid to get behind the wheel of a car because he was afraid of being targeted. He went up to Penn State, they stopped him every 15 minutes! He drove a 10 year old Mercedes. They wanted to know where he got the car from. If they broke his taillight, they could take his car from him. Drove him nuts. He's 22 now. He had to learn how to manage that. He had to learn how to not have heart palpations every time there was a police officer behind him. C'mon man. As his parents, we have done everything to give them the best lives; to make sure that they weren't in trouble. We didn't spoil them. We didn't coddle them. We didn't do any of those things. Everyday and everything was a lesson for our children. Because we don't want them to just survive, we want them to thrive."
"Absolutely! To hear someone say, "Well, if the cop locked him up, it must've been something he did." And that's why with Eric Gardner and Trayvon Martin, as a parent of a child of color, we get it. And that's why we keep saying to them you have to stay out of trouble because anytime anything happens, your entire history follows you. If you went to the store and you stole cigarettes...you understand what I'm saying. It all follows you. The other part of it is that black children are usually much bigger than their counterparts and then they get the descriptions like "he looked like a monster to me". In the collective minds of this country, it's "oh, I can imagine!". Remember, media shows you what they want to. So it's not far fetched that they would believe that this kid was a monster, running towards a cop who was shooting bullets at him. Can you imagine!?"
I CAN'T IMAGINE BEING IN YOUR POSITION, YOUR CHILDS POSITION OR A COPS POSITION.
"I took a lot of flack, about three days after Ferguson, I decided that I'd like to have a conversation with the cops and white allies and young people. Black folks were calling "why didn't you come to us first and come through our organization?" I'm thinking, are we not supposed to find common ground? Are we not supposed to do what we're supposed to do? Why can't I be upset that this happened to my child but still appreciate the thousands of other cops? Why does it have to be either/or? And if I don't fall in the either/or category then why do I have to walk around with your hate? I'm not carrying hate in my heart. It's that kind of stuff that people have to understand. You can be upset, but it doesn't preclude you from also understanding what they have to go through cause there's some craziness going on out here on the streets. And it's hard to be a cop. It is completely difficult to be a cop."
NOBODY WANTS TO BE STEREOTYPED. I EVEN THINK A LOT OF WHITE PEOPLE ARE STEREOTYPED AND AUTOMATICALLY LOOKED AT AS RACIST.
"Let me say this to you: there are some people that feel like all white people are racist. And I can't imagine how you would feel. I do culture sensitivity training for educators around the country. It takes a certain skill level to have that conversation. When you start to open it up, you can see the faces drop. We all come with "stuff" from our background. The thing with education, is when you're working with young people, you've got to kind of figure out what you're bringing to the table, how that affects the young people that you're working with and how you can manage that, in and out of the classroom. Because you can't turn on and off. So, I can't imagine, how being white, one would feel. It's hard to have this conversation. It makes me feel guilty. No one wants to have it with me in a way that I can be open and honest and have the dialogue about what is in your head. That is what my work does and that's why it's been so popular because I want people to be their complete selves but without judgement. If you're coming to the table with judgement before they even open their mouths, who's gonna wanna open their mouths and talk to you? We recognize that. We've got a group, we can talk about that history and learn how to work through it. The key to it is communication, we're trying to understand one another. This journey has been a very interesting one because often times, we want people to understand us, but we don't wanna try to be understanding. What's the purpose? I have to keep reminding people, that a lot of white folks were lynched on trees just like black folks were during the civil rights movement. There was a lot of white folks out there marching. The same way you don't want everybody to lump us in the same category, don't lump all white folks in the same category. It's rude because it's divisive."
"I think we need to separate racism from white privilege. I think we lump those two things together. It is a fact that if you live in this country, and you are Caucasian, that there are certain privileges opened up to you just because, just for your very existence. It's not a bad thing."
BUT IT'S NOT A FAIR THING?
"Exactly. There ya go. There's no equity there. And so you want people to see that for what it is, look at it in that perspective. I think we throw out the "R" word too much. I think we throw out "racism" too much. I think there's a lot of discrimination. I think there's inequality, lots and lots of it. And quite frankly, when we look at the data, the people that are most supported by white privilege, white men, find themselves in positions where there's discriminatory practices going on, even white women at times. Imagine being a woman and black! Double entendre girl. Craziness. (Laughter) And so if we figure out that piece and work through it... of white privilege.... And I think we have to figure out another word for that. I think when we use the words white privilege, although my black friends would probably say "oh my god, you're sugar coating stuff to make them feel better?", but that's why I'm like, why do we always have to fight about this stuff? Why?!"
BUT AREN'T THEY JUST WORDS?
"But words can heal or wound. What is it that we wanna do with our words? Are we trying to be effective or cause the distance? What are we doing with our words?
All I know, is that in my lifetime, the goal is to be the best Andrea I know how to be. To touch the lives that I can touch in ways small and large. And to leave here hoping that I made a difference. Period."
I SEE YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE AND AM ALWAYS INTRIGUED BY YOUR POSTS, THE WORK YOU'RE DOING, BUT I MAY NOT ALWAYS UNDERSTAND HOW TO TAKE SOME THINGS YOU POST.
"Feel free to have the conversation. You can always inbox me and say, "what do you mean by that?" You know how many people inbox me? See, when we talk about it, then we can move on. We don't always have to agree. Doesn't mean that we don't still like each other. We just don't always have to agree."