If the fall of 2014 had a theme song, surely it would be the theme from “Jaws.” Seriously: every time you think it might be safe to scan the headlines, scroll through Twitter or FB, it’s incoming bad news. And not the random unrelated to you kind that you shake your head over for a second or two before moving on. The unrelenting, “please make it stop,” kind. Searing wall to wall coverage of intimate partner violence, and child abuse among major league sports players. Rising almost every day to see more colleges and universities under investigation, or students and alums demanding accountability from same for their failure to investigate and respond appropriately to allegations of sexual assault on campuses across the country. Case after case — John Crawford, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner — where law enforcement snuffed out black lives — in two instances, on videotape — yet were not indicted by grand juries. A litany of sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby brought forward by a staggering number of women. The Cleveland Police Dept. being cited for abuse by the US Justice Dept. days after a police officer deemed unfit for duty in his previous position gunned down a 12-year old. Then to top it off this week, Rolling Stone, having done a piece on sexual assaults at UVA that was monumental enough to cause UVA’s president to suspend all fraternities until early next year, decides to express reservations by throwing the sexual assault survivor under the bus.
In the midst of all the immensity and the weight of all this, I find some things frighteningly familiar, but others providing reason from some optimism happening: while there appear to be more men talking about the wall to wall sexual assault and domestic violence coverage, beyond the folks I’ll term the “usual suspects,” there aren’t an inordinate number of white folks — though you do have to give Bill O’Reilly credit (of all the folks I never would have expected to atta boy on my blog!) credit for weighing in. I’ve begun to read articles about how blacks and whites actually talk differently about race issues, in particular. In 2014, I think it has a lot less to do with black and white than how various communities — immigrant, LGBT, Latino, Asian, Black — relate to law enforcement — see a piece I wrote a few months ago that goes into some detail on this point.
I wasn’t entirely sold on the notion that people of different experiences could be literally talking past eachother on issues like the Garner grand jury verdict until I read Mayor De Blasio’s remarks. He spoke personally to what it’s like to be the father to a bi-racial son (DeBlasio’s wife is African-American) with a huge afro (my description there, not his). Never have I seen more clearly the tension that is sandblasted into the color line in this country than in reading the mayor’s comment, “because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” The entirety of his sentence makes sense, perhaps, to whites, many of whom are less likely to be suspicious or mistrustful of law enforcement. But to communities like Ferguson that have a lengthy history of poor relationships with law enforcement, De Blasio’s suggestion that law enforcement exists to protect his son, or anyone who looks like him rings hollow … seems naive. At least that’s the perspective of this African American mom who is raising a son who — absent the Angela Davis ‘fro — is likely to look a lot like Dante DeBlasio as he grows up … If we can’t even look at our sons and view the threats to them through the same prism, we have miles to go before we sleep … My suggestions: get walking and get talking. On the walking: there are protests and community actions going on nationwide: engage. On the talking: get out of your comfort zone … start a conversation with someone you know, or someone you work with who might have a different view, or with whom you’ve not engaged about these issues before. By that I do not mean to declare your unequivocal convictions in a way that will shut down the discussion. I do mean ask folks what they’re thinking … DeBlasio’s statement might be a good jumping off point. Whatever you do, don’t sit back … Engage … “until the killing of black mothers’ sons is as important as the killing of white mothers’ sons.”