I will get back to finish the Farmtown series.* As my last post in the series (#4, White Supremacy) was characterized by one friend as “the world’s longest blog,” by my spouse as “I know I said I liked the longer posts, but . . . ” and by another friend as “you don’t write blogs, you write articles,” I thought I’d pull out the incidents that I most wanted to share with others. If you waded through the long post, there is nothing new here.
A Black professor in his sixties gives a lecture whose point is to explain how simple differences become schisms between people because of inequality. He then develops an example using the two white police officers sitting next to me that is an extended tale about what if you (white man) were always knocked down by her (white woman) every time she saw you, what would you do? The white man says “lash out” (most don’t hear him say it) but the speaker says that you’d just lie down to avoid being knocked down, and then goes on to say that you’d teach your children to just lie down and avoid the woman and her children, and the children would do it even if they did not know why. And, he says, the woman’s children would expect the other people to lie down, but not know why they are doing it. I find these different perceptions of how people respond to oppression to be important and telling. I think lashing out is what most whites do think the most common response to oppression is, not having actually experienced it. And even as much as I teach this stuff, I am struck by the speaker’s emphasis that you lie down to avoid being knocked down, and that you can teach that to the next generation.
In the next talk, a Chicano professor refers to the previous talk, and tells of a workshop in which the Black professor had told some details of growing up in segregated Mississippi along with his knocking-down example, and having a white professor in his 30s say “Professor X, we know how racism works.” The speaker says, “The arrogance of that man. To sit there as a white man in his thirties and tell a Black man in his sixties that there is nothing he needs to learn about racial discrimination, that is white supremacist ideology.” I can only agree. (There is a discussion in the long post about the Chicano professor’s views on what some call invisible minorities.)
After a break, we are assigned to groups to talk about what solutions we would advocate. When we talk about possible solutions to disparities in incarceration, the first three speakers, all older black people, involve suggestions for improving education and families. Then the black people get into an argument about whether it is more important for black people to work on strengthening black families and communities or to challenge discriminatory systems and practices. An ADA – who I have heard be very aware and critical of discriminatory practices in the criminal justice system – argues that young people have to be taught to behave and not challenge police because assaulting an officer is a felony and will ruin their lives. A younger black man says that young people are facing discrimination and that’s why they resist. She says, “I know that. The first time I encountered the police I was 11, I was walking with my brothers who were two years older and two years younger than me. A police officer came up to us, grabbed them, and threw them on the sidewalk and handcuffed them because there had been a report of a theft in the area. We had not been doing anything, we had nothing to do with the theft. We were just walking on the sidewalk. I understand why they did not like the police. But their lives were ruined.” I’ve heard her talk on other occasions about young people who just seem to lack any moral or behavioral boundaries. She is working on the problems of discrimination in the system, but she also works on the problem of healing the kids and getting them to behave and succeed. This is the kind of conversation that a lot of white folks don’t think black people have. It’s not that they are unaware of or uncritical of racism. Rather, racism is the box they are living in, the reality they are arguing about how to cope with.