Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson, My Take

When I was in 5th grade, a friend of mine who is not a member of my church approached me and informed me that because I am Mormon, I wasn't allowed to drink soda.  I told her that I could drink soda, to which she raised her voice, "No! I know that you can't drink soda! Mormons aren't allowed to drink any soda."  As all of our friends' eyes turned to me, a rush of frustration and exasperation swept over me.  I knew what was and wasn't allowed in my religion.  She was not of my faith, so why did she insist that she knew better than me what my beliefs were?

So, what does this have to do with Ferguson and Michael Brown?  Frankly, it has nothing at all to do with the specific incident or the case itself, but I believe it has everything to do with the nation's reaction to it.  I don't know exactly what happened that fateful August day.  I wasn't there and neither were you.  Did Officer Wilson pursue and shoot an innocent man because  he was African American?  Or, did he chase him and shoot him because he was angry? Did he feel his life was in danger?  I don't know.  I wasn't there and neither were you.  

But, here's what I do know.  There is a reason the Ferguson community reacted the way they did.  They are saying that they're tired of being treated a certain way.  Michael Brown has become a symbol, just as Trayvon Martin was a symbol.  White people who argue that what happened in those cases wasn't because of racism or that it isn't being reported accurately in the media are missing the point.  Stop talking and listen.  Listen to the people who are trying to tell us what their experience is, how they are feeling, the problems in their communities.  If you aren't a black young man, then you have no way of knowing what a black young man feels like or what he goes through.  So, stop telling the black community what they are or are not experiencing!  Or, how they should or should not react to an incident in their community!

I am not a black woman, so I have no idea what it feels like to be a black woman in America.  If one of my African American friends tells me of her life experiences and how she feels in society, guess what, I listen.  Just as ridiculous as it was for my 5th grade friend to insist she knew better than me what my religion's standards were, it is equally ridiculous for non-black Americans to tell black Americans that their feelings and experiences aren't valid or accurate.  

Similarly, as a white mother to 3 black children, I have experiences that many people can't relate to both black and white.  I've had many people try to tell me that incidents of racism that my family has had really weren't racism, that I was reading into things, or being oversensitive, or that person really didn't mean it that way.  My favorite one was that they weren't talking about my children, as if insulting African Americans in general is not insulting to my children.  Why?  Because my kids have white parents?

What I would've appreciated my 5th grade friend doing was to ask me, "Are Mormons allowed to drink soda? Can you drink that?" And, even better if she would've listened to my answer.  Instead of telling black Americans why they're wrong about Ferguson, why not listen to what they are saying about their experiences and their frustrations with society?  And, even better if we set aside our own defensiveness and work together to fix the problems that continually plague our country.

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