In late April 2015, I watched as Baltimore erupted in riots and protests following the death of Freddie Gray. Like Ferguson the year before, the images caught the rapt attention of the American public. By the time the uprising in Baltimore occurred I’d learned that knee-jerk, intense reactions didn’t serve my interest or those of my community. I abstained from creating strongly worded missives and tried to remain dispassionate in my writing. Nevertheless, a conversation I had at the time left me so perturbed and indignant that it caused me to rethink many of my positions, eventually setting me on a more pragmatic course. In today’s blog I’ll elaborate on what sparked this change.
It was the subject of the children, and my daughter specifically, that served as the catalyst. In my blog Ready to Die I addressed my discomfort with Black Americans bringing their children to protests and riots:
“The position is very inconsistent. On one hand, these types are livid (rightfully so in my opinion)when African-American minor children are treated like adults by law enforcement and school officials. Yet they applaud children taking on an adult role in protests and uprisings. It is illogical to demand that others treat your young gently while simultaneously exalting them as ready for war. I can’t esteem those in my community who would beam with pride as African-American children face tear gas and assault at the hand of a police force and National Guard that they are not trained to deal with…”
In groups and status updates on Facebook, I came across plenty of grown Black Americans who not only approved of the presence of children as young as five years old at potentially violent and fatal protests but also took pleasure in it! The mother in me bristled at that, so I spoke up, sharing my reservations in a group discussion. I was strongly condemned, told that being a Black child in America is already a dangerous and traumatic experience. I countered that if that was the case, it was even more reason for Black Americans to love and protect the innocence of our babies instead of sending them in the streets to confront a militarized police force. I stated I would never put my own child in such a position.
“You’re the mother of a little Black girl”, one commenter said, “and she faces a gauntlet of oppression every day anyway! You’ll never be able to protect her…”
I was deeply taken aback at this woman’s uninformed commentary on my child’s life, so appalled that my alter ego from Seattle’s Rainier Valley took over my internal dialogue:
‘WHO DOES THIS HEFFA THINK SHE IS? How is she gon’ tell me what my daughter experiences? Has this woman lost her DAMN mind?’
At the time, I managed to keep such words to myself. But the audacity of this woman was too much. She didn’t know me beyond my profile picture and part of my given name. She knew nothing about my child except for her race and gender. Yet she felt she could authoritatively state that my child faced a “gauntlet of oppression” based on those two factors. The statement was so absurd that it was laughable. My daughter didn’t face a gauntlet of any type, living a largely happy and stable life in a Seattle suburb. Her major complaint in 2015 wasn’t police brutality or systematic oppression; it was waiting for new episodes of Steven Universe to air.
These heated discussions, along with the condemnation I faced for my desire to protect my child from danger, caused me to take a step back. I needed to re-evaluate my concepts of community and culture. As I observed discussions and broke down the principles underlying them, I realized that it was time to pull further away from the woke/conscious crowd in the Black American community. Though I am linked to them by color and a shared historical and cultural experience, the harsh fact is we don’t have the same principles and goals. History and culture are certainly important, but without shared values, there can ultimately be no agreement and no progress.
With increasing frequency, I found that the values and goals of the woke/conscious crowd do not align with mine. This difference does not mean that I seek to convert others. A wise Economics professor of mine once told me that such differences do not stem from people being good or bad; they arise from differences in worldview. My professors’ sage advice from over ten years ago kept me from devoting energy to negatively judging all who I once stood with. In order to evolve, it was more important that I focus on myself, on what mattered to me individually. I needed to become reacquainted with the positive values I was raised with and adopt new ones. I was past due for a paradigm shift.