In so many ways, I feel really unqualified to talk about the events in Ferguson, MO. I’m not from there – I do have some family in the predominantly white South County suburbs of St. Louis and was born in that area, but I don’t really know it. I can’t really say that I’ve experienced damaging discrimination: I’m white, middle-class, straight, cisgendered. I’m a woman which does come with discrimination and fear, in many ways, but not because of my race. I grew up in mostly rural areas of the Midwest. The schools that I attended didn’t have a large black population. My high school had a minority of Chippewa Indians but I was still in that majority group.
I just want to start off acknowledging all of that. I grew up thinking that the police were generally helpful and trustworthy. I don’t know if I’m still there; I have a hard time reconciling the fact that police are supposed to be helpful and yet the accounts of rape survivors who are disbelieved, harassed, and bullied by police make that very difficult. So I don’t know what it’s like to experience the fear and distrust of the police. I don’t know what it’s like to be in that situation.
But I care about what is happening in Ferguson (and in Staten Island and Cleveland and everywhere else) because we are all humans. We all share in our common humanity – the good parts and the bad parts. I know that the stories of black Americans are different than mine and I know it’s important to me to listen to those stories. Why? Because they are our fellow people, our fellow citizens, our library patrons, our friends, and our neighbors. And because it is right.
I’m not sure where to start in my sadness and anger, other than listening and learning. Listening and acknowledging that doing nothing can be complicity. I don’t always know what to do, but I am going to try to listen and respond. I try to read books by all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. I think it’s incredibly important. My white, straight, rural upbringing is only interesting to a point. I want to know about all kinds of lives and I believe this creates empathy and love. I will treat people of all races and backgrounds with care and compassion, or at least strive to. I know I’ll probably mess up at times but I hope to acknowledge my mistakes along the way.
Let’s let everyone tell their story, and I need to listen. Then I need to think about a way to take that listening and use it in action. I’m not sure how that will look, but I will do what I can. I challenge you to do the same.