My Friend Responds to “You Broke It; You Fix It!”

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Lady Justice statue. Image courtesy of pickpix.com

I noted in my previous post that the title I used above was a response from my friend, an African American woman, to my efforts last year to encourage dialogue on race in America.

She sent me her reactions to the events described in Wednesday’s post via email, and I feel her words are yet another important message for us white folks to hear. We hear them, but do we really hear them?

Can we feel them? Can we picture ourselves in the situations she describes? And how will–or will–any of this affect our actions going forward?

Can we transform the outrage we feel now to effect changes, staying the course, because it won’t be quick or easy?

 

Here’s my friend’s response:

I would say what’s happening now is no more an awful time in America than it has ever been.

It’s awful for a huge percentage of black people and people of colour ALL OF THE TIME because of poverty, institutional racism, disparities in healthcare, lack of basic clean drinking water, healthy affordable food in our own communities, disproportionately high incarceration rates…I could go on.

It’s only when something so heinous happens to us (as though that laundry list wasn’t already enough) and we take to the streets in protest, that people really talk about what must change in America.

I worked with Christian Cooper for 5 1/2 years. [Note: She describes what happened to Cooper below.]

He’s a Harvard graduate and worked in the Editorial Department of a medical education company. Chris is one of the sweetest human beings on the planet. The trauma (and yes–it’s a trauma) that he sustained grieves me more than I can express.

This one hit home and saddens me as much as it terrifies me. It saddens me because that woman injured my friend and altered his life. Will he ever be able to quietly go about bird watching–something he loves?

It also terrifies me because it makes me realize just how lucky I am every day that my family members and I have managed to survive in racist America.

I’m lucky that my son–who was pulled over twice in one night for speeding on his way back to college–wasn’t shot by those police officers.

I will not excuse him driving well beyond the speed limit both times. He was wrong; however, as a young black man, being pulled over for something as minor as speeding can get you killed. HAS gotten them killed.

I’m fortunate that I wasn’t dragged from my car and thrown onto the ground with a knee placed on the back of my neck, when I raced up the turnpike in my BMW M2 trying to make it to Hermès in Short Hills to drop off a watch for repair before the store closed.

I’m lucky that when my husband and I pulled into the service area behind a restaurant just outside of Barton Springs, Texas, and a cop raced in right behind us, that we weren’t shot and killed.

We were returning from my husband’s tennis tournament in January. It was after 10 pm and dark. We didn’t know the area well but were simply trying to coordinate where to grab a late dinner.

The cop thought we were about to conduct a drug deal. What saved us was our age (50+) so we “didn’t fit the typical profile,” he said before driving away.

It’s THIS. Every. Day. Of. Our. Lives. It’s exhausting. It’s exasperating. It’s maddening. We always have to look over our shoulders.

We always have to be prepared to justify our presence in spaces that white people still believe are theirs alone: luxury stores, exclusive neighbourhoods, first-class lounges in the airport, and apparently, Central Park.

We continue to be vilified. We are labeled as thugs when armed white men with assault rifles are called patriots for protesting being quarantined during a global pandemic.

Police (and without riot gear, I might add) simply stand while angry white people, armed to the teeth, scream in their faces on the steps of State Courthouses.

The white college student, accused of double murder, was taken into custody “without incident” this week.

What if that suspect had been black? Just being suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bank note was apparently enough to get a black man killed.

The image of that police THUG with his knee on George Floyd’s neck harkened back to segregation and slavery. It was an everyday occurrence to have white men violently putting us “in our place.” The glee they had knowing they had power over our very lives and deaths.

The white woman who threatened to call the police on my friend Christian had the same glee in her voice. “I’m going to call the police and tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

This was a potential Emmett Till scénario, and it’s 2020 and this was in New York City, not Mississippi.

What does that say?

I’ve stopped watching the news or even reading it online. I’m not on much social media either because it’s all, more of the same information about the hatefulness in this country and the spreading cancer of nationalism and racism that is infecting as many people as the coronavirus pandemic.

I simply don’t want to expose myself to that because I don’t want to be infected by the level of hatred–which is easy when you are angry.

Believe me, I AM angry. I just am too tired to keep fighting a problem that will never change.


 

I wanted to give my friend a real hug–not a virtual hug–and to tell her please don’t despair; things will get better. But how could I do that?

Months ago, I had an encounter with a police officer when I didn’t realize I was passing a stopped truck by crossing into a “no passing zone.” I apologized profusely and handed over my license. The officer took it, went to his car, and returned.

He said, “This license is expired. Do you have a new one?” I searched frantically through my bag and said, “I know I have it; I must have left it at home.”

He smiled pleasantly, told me to make sure I use my new license, and to drive carefully. I smiled sweetly, thanked him, and drove off.

He might have just been a nice police officer; there are surely plenty of them. But I can’t help wondering how he would have reacted if he’d stopped my friend…

Annie

20 thoughts on “My Friend Responds to “You Broke It; You Fix It!”

  1. I once had a public elementary classroom of 24 kids (Canada), eight years old each. It was a vibrant class and we got in trouble from the administration all the time that it was too loud – especially the laughing. But the kids’ achievement scores were always way too high for any permanent action to be taken and raised the ranking of the school. Many other teachers were not pleased that their students seemed to hold me and the kids from that class in fairly high regard, that their kids required a firmer hand, more discipline, better control… especially if they had come from m y class in earlier years. I’m sure they grew tired of hearing kids say something like, “We could do this or that in that class.” Oh well.

    The district superintendent was very pleased one day to inform the principle that ‘additional’ funding would be made available because my class was considered ‘diverse’. Sixteen ethnicities. Five different languages spoken at home. Four different religions. Four different races. Three gifted ‘learners’. Five students diagnosed with learning disabilities. You get the idea. The principal informed me I would have to submit a bunch of individual learning plans and cater my teaching to meet all the various ‘student needs’. I made the mistake of laughing out loud and telling the principle to use the money where it would do some good but that my classroom and I were just fine… because a good teacher will already have a very good idea how to teach all subjects across the curriculum to all the students in various ways that yield positive results, that produce confidence from subject understanding by the student, and demonstrate real learning (as well as attending the class because they want to and not because they have to). Standardized testing then becomes a breeze because much of it is fundamental to further learning, which is why all the students seemed to do very well year in and year out… regardless of all these other imported concerns.

    Anyway, I was brought up before a district Board from a series of complaints. I had no means to find out from whom or even why… other than my teaching and classroom management were not aligned with ‘best practices’… other than producing students who had demonstrated learning the curriculum and ready by year’s end for the next level. I never had a student fail nor ever sent a student to the office and had by far the best attendance record.

    One of the people on the Board held a position called ‘diversity officer’. Not a teacher. An officer… sort of like a sociologist/psychologist/lawyer/counselor. This officer explained to me that in order to meet the new diversity guidelines, I was to do a bunch of stuff that I felt detracted significantly from educating young minds not on what to think but how to think in various ways and be able to show this in a variety of subjects and topics… and have real enjoyment from the entire process.

    This is the reason for this comment: I was expected to slot students into group identity categories FIRST – not character, not ability, not intelligence – and then design curriculum delivery to meet the outlined group-based goals. There were gender goals, race goals, indigenous goals, learning impaired goals, gifted goals, ethnic goals, and so on. All of these goals went through the diversity team assigned to oversee and make sure teachers made these goals attainable and could demonstrate to the diversity officer’s satisfaction that ‘best practices’ were being implemented. I argued strenuously that defining a student by these kinds of arbitrary classifications (why not economic? why not political? why not physical? and so on…) FIRST would produce exactly the opposite effect claimed to be championed by diversity officers; these would produce intolerance, racism, bigotry, biased thinking, and of course deep discrimination BETWEEN children because it focused entirely on what differences every student has from another, that it would divide people into a hierarchy of group-based membership, that we would be promoting to define individuals not by the quality of their character but by the colour of their skin. It was the diversity officers turn to laugh out loud.

    I left teaching because it was no longer about how to think but focused on what. That’s called indoctrination and I would have no part in that. Sure enough, the school ranking fell every year. It became much more violent. I saw groups of students hanging together based on these exterior identities, and hierarchy was obvious even from just driving by.

    My point is this, you will never, ever get rid of racism when race is used – and SEEN to be used – as an identifier of the individual. The same is true for all the other ‘protected’ identities. You cannot implement group identity quotas and programs and pretend this magically overcomes group-based discrimination. It doesn’t: it produces exactly the opposite effect in much the same way that anti-racist programs imposed on employees to attend actually increases race-based thinking. If you want to get rid of racism, stop empowering it as a meaningful identifier… and start with public education from primary school onward. Equality (in rights, freedoms, responsibilities, public services, and opportunities) is not equity (the same result) and so equity programs based on meaningless characteristics are doomed to empower them. How we think about race, for example, determines what we think about it. My Grade 3s knew this years ago when students were real people with real names and real abilities and not some cardboard cutout member representative of some group.

    That’s my two cents worth, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would say your point is well taken in theory—and it would also have been so in practice if the kind of teaching you describe had been in place from 1619 on. But regrettably, it has not been. To declare ourselves “race blind” at this point is to pretend that hundreds of years of intentional and unintentional inequities have had no impact and require no redress. I don’t pretend to know the answers. But I think we have seen in the starkest terms solid evidence of how dreadfully we have failed people of color in this country—and elsewhere. And though class is one factor —and an important factor—it doesn’t explain the experiences of my friend and her husband, both successful professionals, or Doug Glanville, the successful former baseball star/adjunct professor, etc, whom I’ve written about in my blog on two occasions, or Michelle Obama, whom I’ve also written about recently, or millions of other people. And it’s grossly unfair to them—as well as 100% wrong—to claim that it does.

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      1. I was trying to avoid the old ‘In Theory’ complaint by explaining a situation where ‘theory’ became ‘practice’ that actually worked… and did so for some time before being ‘corrected’ by those who presumed, and continue to insist that, empowering race as a meaningful characteristic in policy somehow and magically reduces racism. If my approach were to be broadened into ‘Best Practices’ – because, you know, compelling evidence – who knows how long the process would take to disentangle ourselves from granting race has some defining characteristics for the individual. One generation? Two? Isn’t that the right direction?

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      2. Well, you’re presenting me with an N of 1, in medical terminology. So even If I accept your premise that your “race-blind” approach would be beneficial in one or two generations of education—and would somehow be possible despite the impact of previous poor education, poor nutrition, lead poisoned water, etc, etc, how can it be broadened to change the hearts and minds that lead to words/actions that do such crushing damage to people’s souls? As I’ve observed in the past, I think it would be great if economics were the sole factor—because then it would be a hell of a lot easier to make inroads into a very complex, deeply rooted problem that has plagued us for several centuries.

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      3. I have an multinational, multicultural extensive formal education. And I can boil it all down to one sentence my father once said to me: how we think determines what we think. This can then be applied to all kinds of real world problems and help us find real world solutions.

        For example, if we want to reduce racism, then how we think about race matters a very great deal. We have to learn when it’s appropriate to incorporate this physiological characteristic and when it is not. In my classroom (N=1… I love it!) race was not an important characteristic. It simply didn’t matter when dealing with a year’s curriculum. You assume this means ‘race-blind approach’ but that’s not it; race was not an important element in students learning the curriculum and working closely with other kids with MANY different characteristics. To intentionally highlight these differences as something meaningful – say, learning how to think in fractions – directly detracts and divides students not on their abilities to understand fractions (and how this then applies to ratios and probabilities and percentages) but on these unrelated differences. That’s why Hammerstein II South Pacific and related book by Joshua Logan tells us to the music of Rogers (and based on a book by Mitchener) that racism “has to be carefully taught.” How do we teach this? By empowering race to define character. That’s what today’s social justice ideology is trying to do. And it’s never going to work. ML KIng understood very well that this focus was the central challenge, that to overcome racism meant that, someday, people would be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the quality of their character. Phrasing this understanding as a singular example I raise of a ‘race-blind approach’ frames the idea put forth by many really fine thinkers as a way of if not dismissal, then negation. You are framing it this way (for your own reasons) and so are at risk of throwing the baby (promoting a non racist society) out with the bathwater (elevating character over colour).

        The way to elevate character over colour, character over gender, character over sexuality, age, religion, class, income, and so on (there is no end to what differentiates individuals) is to implement classical liberal values both in principle and practice. By doing so, we alter the teaching and gain support from public policy and law. That’s why the charge of 2nd degree murder and aiding and abetting by the other officers are appropriate regardless of the race of the specific officers, the gender of the specific officers, the sexual orientation of the specific officers. These charges are appropriate because of equality law for all individuals including police officers, equality rights and freedoms including those arrested. That’s why civil rights matter but they have to be liberal in principle, meaning equal for all regardless of other taught or empowered differences unless specific cause to mitigate the practice is deemed appropriate (and can withstand objective review).

        Imposing diversity rules and regulations and finances based on the colour of one’s skin and/or one’s ‘historical grievances’ is not a way forward. That’s why it’s called Regressive. Such policies that move us away from our liberal values and principles upon which the Constitution rests will not achieve tolerance and respect for the Other, nor allow us to see ourselves in Another. It will produce exactly the opposite. Yet students today are being ‘carefully taught’ to empower these differences into having a real world effect of dividing people into stratified groups that will – as night follows day – promote intolerance and racism.

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      4. I disagree with your characterization of my thinking: I would love us to get beyond race to everyone’s being judged by the content of one’s character. I think your approach to your classroom is exactly right. It just doesn’t happen and hasn’t happened to the detriment of generations of children.
        At this point, I think it wise for us to agree to disagree. We are two well-meaning people who seek the same ends: a society that values and nurtures each individual according to his/her talents.

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    1. Thank you! I hope you read the prior post, in which I discussed, among other things, some of the legal hurdles that the prosecutors face in winning justice.
      Doing ok; heavy heart, but just heard Obama’s optimism, bless his heart, plus new charges against all four officers. Worried what the cornered president, his impotence in full display, will do next.
      Hope you’re doing ok as well.

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  2. I appreciate your friend’s comments. I wish I knew what to do or say that would ease her burden.
    One thing which I fear will not ease her burden is the wanton destruction going on in so many cities. Nobody is lifted up by the tearing down of others. Genuine protest is good. The riots are not, and will likely do more damage than we know.

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    1. I think the vast majority of demonstrators feel the same way that you and I do. Mayors and governors have made the same point. Unfortunately, there are both criminals taking advantage of the situation and anarchists from various perspectives. You’re probably reading it’s all this amorphous group called antifa, which is trump’s and his so-called Justice Department’s demonizing the peaceful demonstrators. I have seen reports of white supremacists fomenting trouble. There was a most regrettable video of a white police officer in New York making a white supremacy sign and laughing about it with his fellow officers.
      Trump radicalizes people when he sends in armed guards who have no identifiable insignia to attack peaceful demonstrators. Barr gave that order. General Mattis and others have roundly condemned this grave crossing over a sacrosanct line separating the military from attacking Americans. Do you join General Mattis in his condemnation?

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      1. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of using the military on US soil.

        That said, I am more than uncomfortable at the way multiple inner cities have been burned and looted over many days in a row. There is genuine grievance over Mr. Floyd’s death, but I believe that there is something more going on here. I have heard the blame being put on white supremacists and on Antifa, and of course have no more idea of who is actually involved than you do. But I have read too many reports of stockpiles of handy combustibles and of pallets of bricks made conveniently available to believe that all of this is simply a local groundswell.

        My point is that you and I are old enough to know what happened to places like Detroit after the riots of 1967. Everyone who could afford to moved out leaving a blighted hellscape for those who could not afford to leave. That city still has not recovered. I hope that we are not about to experience history repeating itself, only over a wider area.

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      2. There have doubtless been bad actors who should be stopped and prosecuted, and my heart aches for these small business owners who have been struggling against the pandemic, only to see their stores destroyed.
        I share your hope that there will be no lasting damage to the affected cities. I have heard some reports that the amount of damage is not as great as it appears because those are the scenes that are replayed, thereby giving us a skewed view.
        But nothing is as frightening to me as our having a president who has no feeling for life and only wants to dominate—and now has a justice Dept and defense Dept head and joint chief of staffs head willing to play along with him. The latter two keep walking back and then reversing themselves—at least Esper has. What kind of leadership are they demonstrating at this critical time?

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    1. It’s scary as hell. I’m hoping the peaceful demonstrators will realize after today’s memorials that they have accomplished their immediate goals and will channel their energies into seeking systemic change at the ballot box. And I hope we don’t see a huge outbreak of Covid cases among them!
      But what the unpresident will do next, as he sees that he can’t control events and is feeling increasingly cornered—with Barr willing to do whatever illegal act he demands—seems to me to pose a greater threat than we’ve seen to date.

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  3. Really thoughtful piece as always, Annie. It has been staggering to watch from over the pond and has really provided a focus around which UK racial inequalities can be framed and discussed. Like you, I was impressed by Obama’s measured and passionate take.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Matthew. A friend sent me a sampling of the Black Lives Matter discussions in U.K. with young people signing their names to statements about inequities there.
      My most recent post includes a video written and narrated by one of my daughter’s friends since childhood. It was produced by ESPN, where he’s a sports analyst. I think it’s extraordinary and hope it is widely viewed and shared. I also quote Senator Chris Murphy, who raises a vitally important issue that we white folks must address.

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