About six years ago I heard the CDC statistic that African American children are three times as likely as white children to die from accidental drowning. I asked myself why, started doing some research, and learned a history that started in making sure slaves couldn't escape via the rivers, traveled through segregated public swimming pools where separate was not equal, and continued its journey through the correlation of minority populations with low income and therefore limited access to swimming facilities. Add to the lack of swimming access a resulting natural fear of the water passed down through generations. It was the first time I saw structural, systematic, institutionalized racism and it literally killed children.
I had been the typical southern conservative white girl. I figured affirmative action had done its job, I thought people cried racism because they wanted something without working for it. I believed in equality for everyone, I just thought we were already there, or at least we would be if people would stop dragging the past into the present.
But once I learned that statistic all I could see we're drowned children. Mothers and fathers crumpled next to a small casket. I cannot accept a world in which I ignore that centuries of oppression continues to kill children.
And so when mothers and fathers who are crying next to caskets of dark skinned boys tell me that this reminds them of something from those days when nooses hung publicly because everyone assumed that of course the black boy was wrong, I'm going to listen. I will listen when friends and neighbors and people all over an entire country join in to say, "We are him, because we know what it feels like to have eyes follow us around the store, to have women cross the street to avoid encountering us, to have police officers stop and frisk us just in case. We know what it feels like to be suspicious to people whose history and culture has told them that our dark skin holds dark motives."
I can appreciate a legal system that at least states that people are only found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but listening to those who tell me of the centuries of reasons why so many people doubt that their children are good and worthy of life breaks my heart. This is not the world I want to leave to future generations.
I believe that we have to acknowledge that racism still exists in order to move past it. While I always want to be aware of my "privilege" and the fact that I need to listen more than I speak on this issue, I also want to be someone whose not afraid to speak and to remind others to listen. I hope this little bit of my heart shared here encourages someone to listen intentionally to those who are hurt and troubled by things you think are overblown, exaggerated, or pointless.
-originally posted as a facebook status tonight.