Yet again a child has served me such an eye-opening and long overdue lesson. This lesson resulted from the following conversation:
7 year old child: What are you reading?
Me: Oh, I’m just reading an article about Ferguson.
Kid: Oh Mike Brown. I know that.
Me: Well actually this one’s about the Ferguson Police and how they don’t treat certain people fairly.
Kid: Well it’s all over now. Mike Brown was wrong. The case is over and everyone is so relieved. Everyone was soooo tired of hearing about that!
Me: Well buddy, a lot of people feel that way because they don’t see the real problem here. If they really understood the bigger problem, this would have gone a lot differently.
Kid: Well I know Mike Brown went for his gun and if someone does that then they deserve to be shot!
Me: Dude… You weren’t there. We just can’t know for sure. And it’s far more complicated than it seems. Especially with guns.
Kid: What’s so complicated about it?
Me: There’s a bigger story here about how the police see black citizens… I think we should wait to talk about this more. Maybe wait until you’ve gotten older and had more history class and gotten more perspective…
Kid: Well I actually know everything about it already!
Me: Oh do you? Is that right??
Me: Okay, whatever then…
I ended the conversation. I had caught myself in the midst of an argument with a 7 year old child about the Ferguson case. A seven year old.
Then I realized– This is the exact argument I’ve had with so many grown adults. It’s like a script, so familiar I might as well been arguing with a bunch of giant 7 year olds this whole time.
First it starts with the adult arguing that Mike Brown deserved what he got, they use the “thug narrative.” Then they say that Darren Wilson was just doing his job, protecting his life, using the “hero narrative.”
Then, after I bring up the racial perspective, just like the 7 year old did, they ignore it because they don’t understand it. They don’t live it, they can’t empathize with it, so they simply trash it as a possibility. And then when I suggest that there just may possibly be something beyond their realm of understanding that they may need to open their minds a bit more to get a better grasp on, they say some form of: “I already know everything I need to know.” They shut it down, they seal it up, they close their minds to any other perspective. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And once again, I’ve wasted my breath.
After having this exchange with the 7 year old, I realized how truly futile it is to argue with people who have not yet realized white privilege. Whether it’s kids or adults, if they don’t see the effects of white privilege, they’re missing a huge chunk of the greater story of Ferguson, of our nation, and of institutionalized racism; and it’s simply impossible to see race as being a part of this story with that chunk missing.
This kid made me really open up to the evasive nature of racial bias. It’s almost like a ghostly presence. Like with ghosts, some can feel a presence stronger than ever, always there, looming and peering at them everywhere they go, while others simply never feel it and can’t see it so they deny its presence. With no physical evidence to take in themselves, they simply ignore whatever anyone else has to say in objection. White privilege is the blinder that keeps people from seeing the racial bias, the institution of racism which has always been and still very much is.
So just because I see it and I feel the ghostly presence of racial bias, just because my white privilege blinder is lifted and the ghost is all around me doesn’t mean everyone else can see it. All this time, I’ve been arguing about the presence of a ghost with people who don’t believe in ghosts. It’s been a waste! I should have known all along the only true way to believe in ghosts is to witness a ghostly experience. The only true way to believe in racial bias and our institution of racism is to be its witness.
But there’s yet the problem still– you can’t force a ghost to reveal itself. A person has to open themselves up to the idea of it before they can begin to see and feel its subtleties. Likewise, a person has to be open to the ideas that this society is not perfect and rid of its discriminatory nature. Then, if they’re white, they have to be open to the idea that there are experiences they just may not experience because they’re white– they have a certain privilege with their skin color. With that state of mind, the racial bias ghost will begin to reveal itself. It will be seen, it will be heard, it will be felt– and with much horror.
Gratefully enough, the Department of Justice finally witnessed the ghost. They may not have seen it looming within the shooting of Mike Brown, but they see it in the Ferguson Police. Despite all the indications that were ignored of the ghost’s presence throughout the case, despite all the denial and still no justice, at least the ghost was recognized somewhere. I hope this is the starting point for greater recognition and eradication of racial bias. One can only hope for that, there is simply no more persuasion involved.
I don’t know what to argue anymore. I will always know the ghost is there. I can’t make any non-believers see it the way I do, no matter how hard I try. All I know is that when I argue with people who can’t see, I might as well be arguing I saw Bigfoot while walking the dog the other day. This begs the raw question: How do we get people to believe in our haunting of racial bias when they have no reason to see or feel it for themselves? I just don’t have the answer… Yet. But as always, I’m working on it.