Why #BlackLivesMatter to me

I’m not black. So, why would a parenting blog written by a 43 year old Stay At Home Dad of six kids write anything about race? In a word, compassion. I spent the better part of the last week and a half watching multiple tragedies unfold, often in real time. I saw videos of Alton Sterling’s death. I saw Philando Castile die while his girlfriend watched it happen and broadcast it live on Facebook. I saw almost a dozen police officers get shot (five fatally) in Dallas while protecting a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. Through it all I wept. I watched those videos and what struck me was the humanity of each person. Each of those lives mattered. Those men were husbands, fathers, sons, boyfriends, best friends…and now they’re dead. I watched the 15 year old son of Alton Sterling bravely standing by the woman speaking, trying to comfort her, only to break down moments later and sob uncontrollably. I want Daddy. I want Daddy. I didn’t see color. I saw my own 11 year old son for a moment there. I wept again for that young man, now fatherless. I watched in shock last Thursday night as the police officers were gunned down in Dallas. I wept. I prayed for our country. I prayed for peace. I prayed for understanding. I prayed for compassion.

As a parent one of the most important things I’m trying to teach all of my kids is compassion. I will have failed as a parent if my children are not compassionate people when they leave home. But, I cannot teach that if I’m not compassionate myself. I believe that being compassionate is the ability to look at things from the perspective of others, to understand them better, so that I can help them accordingly. For example, on Sunday afternoon I was driving home from the mall with two of my kids and there was a woman standing by the side of the road trying to get across the five lanes with a heavy-looking large pull-cart behind her. I stopped my van and motioned for her to cross. After two cars whizzed past she had a chance to cross in front of me, but the oncoming traffic was approaching and she was slow. So, I turned to the left and blocked the two lanes to shield her, to ensure her safe passage. I was about to leave when she told me that she was trying to catch the bus which just blowing past the stop (because she was too slow to make it there). She asked for a ride to the bus terminal a mile away and I instead offered her a ride home. I introduced myself and made a new friend, Samantha. I had been less than two minutes from home, but drove this lady 15-20 minutes to her apartment building in downtown Tacoma (and then 15 -20 minutes back home). Samantha talked the entire way there, telling me about her mother (dying of cancer) and her husband (disabled with seizures after getting shot in the head) and her own injury (motorcycle accident at age 16 that nearly severed her foot) which caused her to limp even now at age 55. Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that Samantha is black. Interestingly enough, though, the color of her skin wasn’t a factor in my ability to show her compassion when I saw her standing by the side of the road. All I saw was another human being who needed a little bit of help.

I guess this brings me back to the events of this last week. I am saddened by what seems to be a lack of compassion among many of my friends. The black lives matters movement began as a way to draw attention to the ongoing problem of black people being disproportionately targeted by some members of the law enforcement community and then unfairly treated by the legal system. I’ll admit that when I first saw the #blacklivesmatter hashtag a couple of years ago that I ignorantly responded with #alllivesmatter. I didn’t understand. I thought that it had to be one or the other. Thankfully, I have some pretty awesome friends who either wrote or shared articles that showed me the error of my thinking. Some of these friends are dad-bloggers (like me), who have teenage children (like me), but have black skin (unlike me). I learned that these men have been racially profiled all of their lives. They’ve been stopped by the police dozens of times simply because of the color of their skin. I think in my 43 years of life I’ve been pulled over exactly three times. Twice for speeding (deserved) and once for going through an intersection on a yellow light (undeserved, no ticket). Not once for having a broken taillight or a wide nose. Philando Castile, who was days shy of his 33rd birthday, had been stopped 31 times by police over the years. He’s 10 years younger than me. I seriously doubt that he’s that bad of a driver. My friends shared that they’ve had to have conversations with their kids about how to respond if when they have an interaction with police so that their kids will come home safely. For real. This is where I started to really begin to understand how much white privilege I have but I don’t even realize it. I can let my son ride his scooter a few blocks to a nearby Walgreens to buy some candy, even while wearing a hoodie, and not worry that he’s going to get shot by a neighborhood enforcer or a police officer. He’s even managed to sneak a Nerf gun in the waistband of his shorts into public and no one complained or called the cops on him. Moreover, I don’t get pulled over “randomly” when driving around town running errands because I might look like a suspect due the color of my skin or the width of my nose. The inherent privilege of being white in America was something that I had to make an effort to learn about, particularly about how minorities don’t share that privilege. I don’t have to be sorry for being white or ashamed of it. Yet, I believe that I do have a responsibility as a human being to treat others with compassion and to fight for justice wherever I see the need for it. Sometimes that means that I need to educate myself, to learn the stories of my brothers and sisters who don’t look like me, to mindfully build the bridges that lead to a true change of heart and compassion.

Now, here’s where it gets a little bit tricky for some people. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” upsets a lot of people. They think it means that only black lives matter and that black lives matter more than anyone else. Nope. Nope. Nope. Black-Lives-Matter-quotesThey love to fire back with All Lives Matter, or Blue Lives Matter. Yes, they do. But, until we, as a country and as individuals can act like ALL lives matter then there will remain a need for movements like Black Lives Matter. For example, just last week I shared several things on my personal Facebook page about the deaths of Sterling and Castile. There weren’t many comments and my feed wasn’t filled with anyone posting stuff saying All Lives Matter in response to those two men dying. Yet, within a few moments of the shooting of the police officers in Dallas my feed was full of people sharing pictures of the badge of the Dallas Police Department and using the phrase Blue Lives Matter. People were showing compassion and concern for the victims and even their communities and families simply because the victims were police officers. I respect the men and women in blue as much as anyone and believe that they have incredibly difficult jobs that require them to be “on” 100% of the time. One momentary lapse could cost them their lives, so the national outpouring of compassion for their families is well deserved. But, why couldn’t that same compassion be shown or expressed for the victims just a few days before? Or for any of the countless victims of black on black crime that All Lives Matter folk love to derisively reference? If ALL lives matter then even the lives that some might deem “worthless” should matter. If ALL lives matter then no one will rest until there are ZERO incidents of police brutality. I believe that I can say Black Lives Matter at the same time that I say Blue Lives Matter because I value both groups. Why? Because we’re all human beings. Compassion doesn’t depend on color.

I don’t want to live in a country that thinks it’s okay to racially profile people based on their race or ethnicity or any other trait. I don’t want to live in a country where abusive or racist cops are tolerated and the good cops suffer the tragic consequences. I don’t want to live in a nation that points out the high rate of black on black crime as an excuse to say that the police can use excessive force or that exposes the record of victims in a not so subtle way of saying he got what he deserved. We’re better than that. We owe it to our kids to be compassionate for one another. Step out of your comfort zone and educate yourself. Talk to your kids about this topic. Help them to understand so that they can grow up without the racial tension that is so prevalent in our nation today. As a SAHD, I get to see my children interact with others in a lot of situations where there’s no adult hovering over and directing their every move. I’ve noticed the ease that my 6 and 3 year old daughters have in playing with boys and girls of any skin color in places like a children’s museum, a McDonald’s play place or the playground at a park. I’m thrilled that my 11 year old son’s best friend is witty, respectful, silly, smart, and loves to catch frogs just like my son. The fact that he and my son don’t share the same skin pigmentation is irrelevant to their friendship. Why do we, as adults, make such big deal about this? Why is it so hard to show compassion for one another?

I want to leave you with a quote from my friend Janice, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Her daughter and one of my daughters became friends early in grade school and were best friends until we moved to Washington state four years ago. Her twins, now 17, are black and were adopted by Janice and her husband as babies. As a white parent raising black children she offered a unique perspective on my Facebook page last week when I posted a (much shorter) version of this blog post calling for compassion.

Thank you so much, Carl, for speaking truth and compassion. My son and daughter, who you know quite well, are deeply upset. When a 17 year old girl was treated with over the top brutality by Madison, WI, police my daughter became very upset and agitated. When I spoke to my son about the gentleman who was murdered by police officer in Minnesota, he said, “Mom, can we not talk about this now” as he turned his face and his eyes swelled up with tears. My twins have been experiencing this grief and fear on regular basis. They have been ignored, verbally called “n” word, followed in stores, gawked at, frowned at, not given food while waiting in line after ordering and more. The macro and micro agressions cause a human to be in a state of constant vigilance, increase anxiety, create emotional stress and more due to lack of safety and peace. Yes, they are humans with huge big hearts of compassion! They are giving, gentle, hard workers who do treat others with respect. However, when they walk out the door into “society”, they play a game with loaded dice. We need truth and reconciliation talks to really understand our history and the violence against black bodies. Perhaps readers of this thread would like to read, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Thank you again, Carl. It is very hard to turn toward this violence and actually see it for what it is. My 17 year old shared, “I think I will go to school here because I haven’t been shot yet.” The war against black bodies hasn’t ended. The slave codes allowed the beatings, rapes and murder. We as a society have much work to do. I’m open to suggestions as I’m blinded by grief.

So, I ask you, my dear readers, what are YOU going to do to help bring healing to our country? Are you willing to cultivate compassion in yourself and in your children? I know that I am and I hope that you are as well.

 

 

*****Here are some links to articles that I’ve found helpful in educating myself regarding Black Lives Matter and policing in the United States.*****

Surprising New Evidence Shows Bias in Police Use of Force but Not in Shootings

Study Supports Suspicion That Police Are More Likely to Use Force on Blacks

Advice for White Folks in the Wake of the Police Murder of a Black Person

Solutions

The Problem with Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

See beyond “the police” for change…

The video of Alton Sterling’s son is the video you should watch

Adrian Perryman’s Video

http://www.blacklivesmatter.com

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-obama-memorialize-police-officers-killed-dallas-sniper/story?id=40488652

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Dad, what’s Ferguson?

“Dad, what’s Ferguson?”

Wow. Talk about a loaded question from my ten year old son. We were driving in the car last week and he asked the question after hearing the news on the radio. I was glad to discuss it with him and even happier that we had about 45 minutes more to our destination. I was tried to formulate in my mind how to present the facts to him about the events in Ferguson in a way that he would understand. I started to talk about racism in America and he asked a second question. “What’s racism?” Huh? How could he not know about racism? I realized that my son’s innocent image our country and people in general was going to be changed when he learned about racism in America, in 2014. I tried to put it in terms that he could understand without sounding preachy. Our conversations went something like this.

Me: How would you like it if I told you that you couldn’t be friends with your friend X any longer?

Son: Why not? He’s one of my best friends. I just went to his birthday party yesterday.

Me: Too bad. I don’t like him. He’s not a good influence on you. You can’t be friends with him.

Son: What? That’s not fair. I like X. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s my friend.

Me: Son, I like X. I like his parents. I’m glad he’s your friend. I said that to show you about racism. But there are people in our country who would not let their kids be friends with X because of the color of his skin. Because it’s different than theirs. That’s an example of racism.

Son: But that’s not right. Why would that matter?

Me: You’re correct. It’s not right and it shouldn’t matter. But people still act like that.

Son: Really? That’s not nice. It’s really not fair.

I wish that I could have given my son a response that would satisfy him and his desire for fairness. It made me sad, really, that my generation hadn’t done a better job of making real changes to eradicate racism. Unfortunately, racism is still alive and well in our country. If the events happening almost daily don’t convince you then take a look at the comments on almost any article related to these events. The hate-filled language is disgusting. Embarrassing. Sadly, I’ve seen it from people on both sides of the issues. People should be ashamed of themselves for thinking, much less actually writing, such awful words. I tried to explain to my son that one way to try to stop the racism and intolerance was to be kind. Always. Be. Kind. I know that it sounds simplistic, but could you imagine what would happen if everyone, I said everyone, was actually kind to everyone else all of the time? The “Golden Rule” isn’t too radical, is it? Treat others how you’d like to be treated. Kind of revolutionary, right? I was able to tell my son that part of the reason I discipline him and his sisters is because I’m trying to prepare them for a lifetime of treating others with love and kindness because it’s the right thing to do. Being loving and kind never goes out of style.

 

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The second thing I told my son he could do to help stop racism in America is to be bold, like a lighthouse on a cliff.  To speak up when he sees and hears racism and to not tolerate it among others. Ever. Not even a little bit. I shared with him an example of when a close friend made a derogatory remark about someone working in a drive-thru and I called him on it. Right there in the car. He tried to justify it because a person of that same skin color had attacked his family one time when he was a kid. He claimed he was scarred for life. I called B.S. on him and challenged him to change that attitude for the sake of his kids. I wish I could say that my words caused an epiphany in my friend and that he did a 180 from that moment on. Even so, he knew that what he did was wrong and he knew that I wasn’t going to put up with it. Social media and the web in general have combined to give all of us a voice that can be used to build up and tear down. I’m disgusted by how many people make awful comments about what’s going on in the world. Spend five minutes online and the comments about pretty much any news article turn downright nasty pretty quickly. And it’s not just one side or the other of the political spectrum. It’s rampant among liberals and conservatives calling each other names and spewing hate. It’s got to stop. And it’s up to each one of us to decide that we’ve had enough and make sure that we each speak up boldly for the truth. Are you willing to be the light that not only exposes the hate of others but leads them to a better place?

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Thirdly, I had to tell my son that sometimes the police treat people differently because of the color of their skin. He was incredulous. I told him about the experiences of some black men that I know who recently shared experiences of being stopped and questioned by police simply because of their skin color. These guys are college-educated, middle/upper class, married and employed. Yet that didn’t stop the profiling. I’m trying to build empathy in my children so that they can begin to understand that everyone has a unique story to tell based on their own experiences. I’m obviously not black so I cannot ever fully understand what it’s like to grow up black in America. I can, however, listen to the stories of others and come along side them to stand up for what is right. I had to explain that we, as white men in the United States, enjoy a freedom or privilege that black people, and black men in particular, do not share with us. While we have a responsibility to obey the government and the authorities in a respectful manner, we also have a responsibility and a right to disagree with it when necessary. I grew up in a very white area of northeast Wisconsin and only knew one black person my whole childhood. I didn’t even know about the concept of white privilege until I learned about it in a School of Education class as a senior in college in 1994. I was 22. At that time I bristled at the notion that I enjoyed privilege simply because I was a WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) male. I didn’t think I was racist or that I should have to apologize for my race because some people of my race were racist, either currently or in the past. I always thought that if you worked hard and obeyed the government and the police that you would succeed in the U.S. Over the last 20 years I’ve come to a better understanding that there is, actually, inherent privilege in being white. It’s sad that this is true.

We still have a lot of work to do. We cannot ignore this any longer and pretend that it’s a only problem within the black community. We need to work together. Not just black people. Not just white people. All of us. Together. After all, we’re all part of the same race. The human race.

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Below are several articles that I’ve found interesting, informative and enlightening over the last couple of weeks. I don’t necessarily agree 100% with each author but feel that it’s important to consider other perspectives than only my own. Be warned, though, that some of them are difficult to read because of the content and/or language used.

Ferguson, race and voices  http://www.morethancake.org/archives/8604