Last night, I lay awake replaying the day's headlines in my mind; in particular the news of fatal shootings of black men by police in both Tulsa, OK and Charlotte, NC. The kids were asleep, and my partner, who is black, was on his way home from his weekly basketball game. He was later than usual, and I slipped into a momentary panic, wondering if something was wrong. Was he pulled over while driving home? His tail light went out a while ago; did he ever get that fixed? Are his windows tinted too dark? Was he speeding to get home a little faster? I reminded myself that we live in LA, as if that could reassure me. But I recalled Ezell Ford, Donnell Thompson, and Brandon Glenn, just to name a few black men killed by police in Los Angeles in the last year.
As a white woman, I've stumbled with how to 'show up' for these injustices. Since Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, I've had a personal practice of writing down the name of each black person I've heard about who has been killed by police, with a short note to that person. It's an imperfect practice, but something that helps me connect to each individual. I realized I didn't know the names of the men killed in Tulsa and Charlotte, so I looked them up - Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, respectively - and wrote a note to each man.
I heard my partner arrive home a few minutes later, and I fell asleep before he even made it to the bedroom. I repeated the panicked thoughts in my sleep, and woke up startled in the middle of the night, comforted to find him asleep beside me. I didn't mention any of this to him during the morning rush to get out the door. This isn't the first time I've had this panic; I've never mentioned it to him. I have been afraid to speak my fears into existence, for me, for him and especially for the kids. But I wondered this morning if maybe the kids have these same fears? I don't know because I haven't asked.
So this post is for all of us, including me, who need to ask more questions and listen more closely, especially to our children.
I read a beautiful and tragic account from a teacher in Tulsa about the space they held yesterday for students to mourn; Terence Crutcher's daughter is one of the students at the school. I know there are a lot of teachers out there who are not sure how to have conversations about race, racism, policing and violence with their students, or even with their colleagues. U.S. schools are increasingly re-segregated by race. Sometimes these conversations don't happen because they don't seem to hit close enough to home. I am convinced these are places where we most need to start.
Creating a safe and reflective environment for these discussions takes work in light of who we are, who our children are and the histories and experiences we carry. I know that these are not one-off conversations. They have to be ongoing. But they also need to start somewhere. In that spirit, I offer three links here to begin the discussion--whether in your classroom, staff room or around your dining room table.
I pledge to start these conversations more explicitly with my family today.
- Facing Ferguson: News Literacy in a Digital Age looks at issues such as how identity and bias shapes how we see and make meaning of media, how social media shapes our experience of breaking news, and so much more. It can offer a framework for approaching emotionally-charged issues in the news by examining primary sources and thinking critically as media consumers.
- Fostering Civil Discourse: A Guide to Classroom Conversations offers practical strategies about how to engage in challenging conversations.
- Face the Future: A Game About the Future of Empathy imagines a future in which individuals can share and feel each other's actual emotions through sensor technology that measures bio signals and other factors. This November students and adults will have the chance to imagine what would happen if we could feel what other people feel. Could it change our behavior? Could it make us more empathetic? Could it go wrong?