“I really don’t care. Do you?”

Melania-Trump-Sports-Jacket-That-Reads-I-DONT-REALLY-CARE-to-Visit-Border-Detention-Centers

Why did the First Lady, a fashion-conscious former model, decide to wear this particular jacket to tour a detention center for immigrant kids? Did she think she was going to the Hunger Games?

trump mural 2018

Kids have to look at this mural inside a Texas detention center, a converted Wal-Mart building… But hey, at least it’s bilingual, right? That should make them feel welcome.

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When kids are labeled “illegal” and “undesirable,” and nobody is paying attention, what could possibly go wrong?

 

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Detaining “undesirable” children is becoming normal again. We are being conditioned. And we accept this conditioning at our peril. How will history judge us?

niemoller quote

Your grandchildren will wonder, why didn’t you stop the madness?

R E S I S T

 

Free our kids, free our minds

As heartbreaking as it is to listen to the cries of refugee children who have been forcibly taken away from their parents, we should remember that the forced separation of families is nothing new, especially when it comes to communities of color.

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Source: AP via US Customs and Border Protection. An agent keeps watch as children file out of a cage.

Before I go further, I want to state the intention behind this post. I have been heartbroken and appalled by the lack of compassion being shown to desperate families from our neighbor nations to the south. My heart goes out to parents who seek respite from the dangerous circumstances in their home countries.

As a U.S. citizen, I try to recognize my nation’s complicity in creating the dire conditions these families are fleeing, whether in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, or Nicaragua. I am clear that part of the reason why so many desperate parents risk everything to bring their children north is directly related to the legacy of weapons, war, drug money, deported gang members, and political destabilization exported from the United States during my lifetime.

Furthermore, as the adopted son of immigrant parents, as a transracially adopted African American member of a multiracial family that includes refugees from the Nazi Holocaust, as a teacher educator of color, and as the adoptive father of black sons who survived the traumas of foster care, adoption, and incarceration, I must speak out.

It is tempting to feel powerless. I ask myself, What can I possibly do? Well, I know how to write, and I have loyal blog followers. Maybe my words, in some small way, will help strengthen our resistance movement. It is for all these reasons that I feel compelled to break my self-imposed blog silence and use some of my privilege and cultural capital to express my thoughts on child removal, family separation, foster care, adoption, and schooling–all topics that I have studied and personally participated in, for better or worse.

While I have taken a break from blogging for some time, I have been diligently working to make amends for the harm I may have caused through my involvement and participation in social institutions which I have come to recognize as fundamentally unethical and untenable. As a grandfather now, I feel more and more driven to work to hold myself accountable. These feelings are the genesis of this post. And so…

While it is shocking to witness, in our own time, media images of incarcerated children confined to oversized dog kennels, the roundup of children on the border is but the latest manifestation of an age-old government policy. Many Americans either don’t know or don’t care to think about how child removal has a long, shameful history as U.S. government policy. Even so, this policy can be understood as part of the larger attempt to manage the “problem” of diversity within the unfolding great American social experiment.

In terms of U.S. history, child removal has proven to be an effective strategy for domesticating communities that the power elites view as their enemies. Back during slavery times, enslaved parents had their children sold away, sometimes as a punishment for disobeying the master’s wishes, other times as intimidation designed to keep enslaved adults in line.

Later, long after slavery was abolished, child removal continued to be used to control black bodies. Think about it: It made a kind of sense for white authorities to fear the resentment, if not rebellion, of their former slaves. Systems were put in place to monitor and contain black aspirations for freedom, including the Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, the penal system, chain gangs, and “hyper policing” of black neighborhoods. Don’t forget about the lynchings, torch-wielding night riders, White Citizens Councils, etc. that used violence and intimidation to shore up white dominance. Want some documentation?  Read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for an excellent analysis of how white power came to be maintained after slavery ended. Alexander shows how mass incarceration became a preferred way to keep watch over potentially rebellious malcontents, namely, African Americans and poor people of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

As the social welfare and justice systems slithered their icy tentacles into African American communities, forced child removal was added to the arsenal of the surveillance apparatus. Why do you think there are disproportionate numbers of black and brown children in foster care? Why are so many black and Latinx youth living behind bars? After reading his autobiography in which he describes his childhood experience surviving both foster care and incarceration, you begin to understand why the legendary African American leader, Malcolm X, referred to social workers as “home wreckers.”

The long and valiant efforts to defend the Native way of life from encroaching “settlement” by hostile invaders ultimately ended in the military defeat of resistant Indigenous nations. Conquered Native Americans had to watch their children being forcibly removed from their families. The most resistant and defiant tribes had their children snatched first. Captured children were sent away to residential “Indian schools,” where forced assimilation into the white man’s way of life was foisted upon them.

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Carlisle Indian School (or indoctrination center, depending on your loyalties)

Even today, many Native and First Nations communities throughout North America struggle with the long-lasting effects of this historical trauma. Trauma today shows up in a complex of social problems, including alcoholism, child abuse, domestic violence, and high rates of youth suicide. It is not easy to “get over” and simply forget the deliberate breakup of families, which arguably serve as the backbone of vibrant, culturally intact communities. It is a testament to the resilience and beauty of their cultures that my Indigenous friends are still here. In gratitude for your example, in admiration of your courage, and out of a sense of moral outrage at the colonization you continue to endure, I rise in solidarity.

It is no exaggeration to say that child removal policy has been a primary strategy for building and maintaining the white settler nation state. If you need further evidence, study the work of historian Margaret Jacobs, my award-winning colleague here at the University of Nebraska. Her book, White Mother to a Dark Race, details the way self-appointed white women rushed in to Native communities at the end of the so-called Indian Wars to “rescue” children from what they saw as a barbaric, dying culture, by ripping them away from their supposedly “uncivilized” parents. Jacobs points out how Indian child removal by these ethnocentric reformers, even though they acted as if it were for the children’s own good, was actually part of a deliberate process of white nation-building during Westward Expansion. She also hints at the way the seeds were sown for the later transracial adoption experiment of placing Indigenous children in white Christian homes. Jacobs’ impressive book documents the same approach taken by similar white settler nation states, such as Canada and Australia, where white invaders snatched Indigenous children as part of their own nation-building process. I’m not making any of this up, folks. Go check for yourselves.

While you’re at it, read Joel Spring’s book, Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. In it, he discusses the uses and abuses of schooling, along with other U.S. government policies, to control minoritized communities. Spring systematically chronicles the treatment of Native Americans and former slaves, Asian immigrants, and colonized Latinx communities, including families living in occupied territory claimed by Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Separating children from their families was found to be an effective way to intimidate and coerce resistant adults of all ethnicities. Confining children in schools and other institutions continues to be used to manage diversity, principally by assimilating and socializing the next generation of conquered and resistant peoples into accepting their subordinate status.

Even the white children of European immigrants weren’t spared, back in the day. What we like to think of rosily as the “American Dream” is actually rooted in the nightmare of cultural imperialism, enforced through loss of languages and given names, Americanizing “foreign-sounding” family names, and erasing cultural identities. Europeans from different nations were coerced and bribed into leaving all vestiges of their respective motherlands behind in order to gain the privileges reserved for white Americans.

And even though we are not often taught this tidbit from history, it is a fact, nevertheless, that thousands of immigrants returned to Europe. Once they had a taste of the racist, misogynist, and unfriendly American class structure, not to mention the abysmal working and living conditions, they were like, “I’m out of here.” Don’t believe me? Check out James Loewen’s revealing book, Lies My Teacher Told Me.

Schooling has always been key to the assimilation and domestication agenda. (Read Paulo Freire’s excellent critique of what he calls the “banking model” of schooling in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In fact, it may be time to revisit his contemporary Ivan Illich’s ideas in his book, Deschooling Society.) Schooling is based fundamentally on removing children from their families, albeit temporarily, but for large and recurring chunks of time. (See award-winning educator John Taylor Gatto’s book, A Different Kind of Teacher for some great insights into how this all works.) Because most of us have been effectively tamed through schooling, it should come as no surprise that many of us timidly and obediently accept this process as a social good, even as a necessity. But given the emerging social and political crisis facing the United States, it’s time we ask ourselves: At what cost do we willingly submit our children to domesticating education?

We are currently living through a terrible period of scapegoating, demonizing, and dehumanizing particular communities, exacerbated but not caused by the current occupant of the White House. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, and the complexion of the nation’s youth generation grows darker with each passing decade, we are being encouraged, mainly through corporate media propaganda, to buy into an “us versus them” mentality. Some of our neighbors, friends, and family members are being labeled as undesirable and treated as expendable. That is unacceptable, and we must resist all efforts to pit us against each other.

Recognize how we are being conditioned and desensitized in order for the state to take steps to further contain and control the burgeoning brown youth generation through a  strategy of divide and conquer. Recognize how they are trying to break our spirits. But before we give in to sheer exhaustion, and before we give up in utter despondency, we must ask ourselves: How do we want history–and future generations–to judge our response to the current manufactured crisis?

Wake up from the desensitization! We have become too desensitized to the ongoing trauma of separating children from their families. We have been conditioned to think of it as normal. For example, most Americans accept sending our own children off to school, where they are taught by strangers, away from the watchful, loving eyes of parents and grandparents. We act as if rounding up the young and segregating them away from adult society is somehow “natural.” We force kids indoors for hours at a time, away from nature, in buildings that look and often feel like prisons, grouped unnaturally by age or “grade,” and we call that education. Then we wonder why so many kids hate school.

We tolerate other professional interventions into family life, for example, by social workers and other authorities. We allow them to physically remove children from any families they decide are unfit. We tolerate the psychic violence done by adoption agencies both at home and abroad, and their unethical trade in children. We make it seem normal and acceptable for a so-called “birth mother” to walk away from her child. We accept as a good thing the transnational movement of children from one “unfit” family to another “approved” family. We tolerate the breakup of largely disenfranchised, struggling families, often impacted by poverty. By accepting as legitimate the global institution of adoption, we tacitly endorse the wholesale destruction of families and communities, and render “birth parents” and other biological relatives largely invisible and powerless.

On top of that, we tolerate the mass incarceration of youth who, in past times, would not have been tried as adults or treated as criminals, but would have been forgiven their youthful mistakes, and probably given a second chance. We have become so desensitized, over the years, that we now accept without thinking that the “best interests of the child” are served by allowing self-appointed authorities to remove children and send them to live away from their families—behind bars, in detention centers, in group homes, in psych wards, in foster homes, or simply spending their days away at school. And now, we watch incredulously as frightened, already traumatized refugee kids are being corralled into kennels and tent cities along the U.S./Mexican border. I can’t help but ask, what would Jesus say?

When you step back and understand U.S. history from the vantage point of child removal, you begin to see the pattern. My writing partner, Jason Irizarry, and I have written elsewhere about the “ideology of containment” as a pattern throughout the history of schooling in the U.S.A. It’s all part of a corrupt continuum that shores up the white nation state’s apparatus for the surveillance and containment of young black and brown bodies.

From the harshest extreme of genocide and brutal slavery to mass incarceration, techniques of hyper policing, mandatory schooling, the coercion that underlies the foster care and adoption industry, to private prisons, youth detention centers, and other institutionalization processes, the elites who govern the white settler nation state are hell-bent on maintaining their power over an increasingly diverse (meaning browner and browner) youthful populace, by any means necessary.

I believe that our children are not expendable. On the contrary, I believe they are sacred. If we are serious about liberation and social justice, especially for young people of color, one of our tasks might be to answer, as honestly as we can, a few critical questions. I would suggest that these are important questions for all of us, but especially for white family members and adult allies who care about creating a multiracial society oriented towards justice and social harmony:

(1) In order to wrest our children’s freedom from the grip of institutionalized authority and the tyranny of experts who have the power to disrupt and displace families, to which communities must we remain especially loyal?

(2) Regardless of our academic fields, jobs, and/or civic engagements, in whose interests primarily should we work? Whom do we serve?

(3) Which structures and institutions need to be abolished–literally–in order for our children to go free?

(4) Lastly, before we can act as effective allies to the young, how do we begin to deinstitutionalize and decolonize our own minds?

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 “ … for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’

“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ “

Matthew 25

Bridging the gap: What should white people say?

Those of us in multiracial families and interracial friendships have a unique role to play. Our voices need to be heard—and I mean that quite literally—perhaps now more than ever. In this post, I offer a few suggestions about how to use the collective power of our voices, especially from white individuals, in order to shift the national conversation about race relations. I further suggest that speaking publicly can actually slow down the widening of the gap that I fear will rip the nation apart.

One of my grandsons, already big for his age at 14 years old, is in the target group that is seen as scary and suspicious by many adults. As a mixed race teenaged male, my grandson looks black. And like Michael Brown (and my son at the same age), he also looks older than he is, and gets treated as such.

happy dadJohn Raible (middle) with teenage sons back in the day.

I was curious to hear what my grandson is making of all the recent coverage in the media. He says that the only reason people are freaking out is because the incident went viral. His mom tells me that he didn’t bother to attend a local protest because, from his perspective, this stuff happens every day. I find myself asking: What will it take for him to become more of an activist? I’d rather see him become an activist for social justice than join the ranks of jaded youth who simply hate the police. Maybe neither outcome will happen unless one of his friends is shot or beat up by the cops. While my grandson and his peers can expect more and more surveillance and some harassment as they progress through the teen years, I hope and pray they are never subjected to that level of victimization.

Since I started blogging about the Ferguson rebellion, which I will remind readers is not “off topic” when it comes to parenting children of color and to the experience of TRAs of all ages, it has been interesting to follow the blog statistics collected by Word Press. Every day, the stats give me some sense of who is reading this blog, and which posts are popular. By far the most widely read post so far has been White adoptive parents and Ferguson’s mayor. Whereas a typical post gets seen by around 150 readers, the one that mentioned white adoptive parents specifically spiked to 480 views (and counting).

On a very personal level, I have some thoughts about what white people of goodwill can do to facilitate racial healing. I remember feeling vulnerable and suspicious after the Zimmerman verdict. I was sitting in an airport lobby waiting to board a plane when the news of the acquittal came out.

For me, and I’m sure for many of us, the news of the verdict was a moment of great anticipation and heightened tension. Sitting behind me watching the news was a white couple, discussing the event as it unfolded on the television screen in the waiting area. I was worried that I was going to be subjected to insensitive or even inflammatory comments from pro-Zimmerman supporters seated nearby. Surrounded by a largely white airport crowd, I found myself defensively steeling myself emotionally. In my head, I rehearsed my response. Just in case.

You may not be able to appreciate the significance of this, but I was pleasantly surprised, and actually touched, to hear the female half of the couple verbalizing empathy for Trayvon’s parents. She uttered out loud so that those of us sitting nearby could hear: “That poor boy. There is no justice. Those poor parents.”

In hindsight, it is obvious how the power of her simple, yet heartfelt utterance helped all of us within earshot to remember the humanity of this tense public moment. I will even go so far as to speculate that her bravery may have silenced the people sitting nearby who agreed with the verdict or who supported Zimmerman. I like to think that this woman’s spoken kindness and expressed empathy made it harder for haters and fear-mongers to voice their views. In doing so, that stranger was my ally, and she probably didn’t even realize it.

The impact of the Zimmerman acquittal was devastating. Watching so many of my fellow Americans rally around Trayvon’s killer left me feeling disgusted, bitter, and frightened. Finding myself sitting alone in that airport lobby, in that moment I really needed an ally. The vocalized empathy from one woman mattered. No longer did I feel so alone. I was reminded that there are still good white people who don’t see all young African Americans as animalistic thugs that deserve to die. It helped me to feel safer in a public space in a moment of heightened vulnerability. It renewed my faith in my fellow Americans, during a critical incident when that faith was flagging.

Right now, in our nation, we are facing yet another critical moment. While many of us have been upset by recent events, people of color in particular have good reason to feel scared, not just angry. Did you see the proud, strong, and passionate (and no doubt scary to some viewers) Elon James White (comedian, blogger, and host of This Week in Blackness) break down on Melissa Harris Perry’s show this morning? I can totally identify with his emotional state right now. Not only do we, as black men and fathers, fear for the safety of our young people. These critical incidents also bring back vivid memories of our own racialized mistreatment at the hands of intimidating bullies, both in uniform and in civilian clothes.

I am telling you, it would be enormously helpful for people of goodwill in this moment to express out loud their empathy and compassion. You don’t have to get into debates about the eyewitness accounts or the looters. What each of us can do, with coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances, is offer a compassionate word of empathy and quiet encouragement.

Maybe you don’t go up to a random black person and say, “I am on your side” or “I feel your pain.” But can you talk to your friends of any race and say out loud for those around you to witness, as that nice white lady did at the airport, “That boy should not have died”? That simple statement, uttered over and over across this nation—in public, not just behind closed doors—could go a long way to facilitate the process of healing that we sorely need.

And for white adoptive parents of children of color, and members of other multiracial families, now is your moment to come of the closet. If you are white and raising a child of another race, identify yourselves as concerned parents of children of color. Let your fellow whites (as well as people of color) know that you are not all that far removed from the parents of Michael Brown. Talk about the countless victims of police brutality as if you are talking about your own child. This can help disrupt the racial binary that the mainstream media wants to keep smoldering. People need to be reminded that this is not a simple case of blacks against whites, or of good against evil. You can help to humanize the victims of the excessive use of force in the national discourse that keeps vilifying and criminalizing particularly young black males, as if they somehow get what they deserve. As if their parents don’t grieve, and their lives don’t matter.

The words coming from the mouths in white bodies make a powerful difference. I need to hear, and I am certain other people of color feel the same way, white people saying out loud that you do not defend Officer Wilson’s actions. Although it may seem obvious, in this time of crisis and heightened vulnerability, please remind us that not all white people automatically side with the police when these tragedies occur.

Help us to believe that there is still hope for fairness, compassion, and reason. Help us to trust that some whites are not in denial of our children’s lived experience as perpetual suspects. Help us to not succumb to cynicism, despair, and fear. Each of us can take small yet significant steps to express empathy, concern, and compassion. Minimally—I am not even talking about more political expressions of outrage and solidarity with communities of color. That can come later.

And for people wondering about how to convey messages of support to our youth, who are understandably feeling frightened, incensed, attacked, slandered, misunderstood, and perhaps even emotionally abandoned, now is the time to speak up. Again, find ways to voice your disapproval of the overuse of excessive force. Say out loud that you know plenty of good kids of different races. Interrupt the narrative that criminalizes African American youths by showing photos of your children, your students (if you are a teacher), and your own multiracial family. My sister in St. Louis tells me that she has used this tactic when racist comments are made in her presence. It takes courage, but courage is what is called for among allies. Find the strength to speak out on behalf of fairness, empathy, and humanization. Don’t cling to silence and hope that this will all blow over. Each one of us can make a difference. Each one of us can do a small a part in the promotion of healing and national unity.

Thank you for reading this, and thank you for caring and daring.

Related posts:

Young black men, some of us do love you

Where can we feel safe?

Where can we feel safe?

Lately, I’ve been touched by the sight of protest placards with the obvious yet poignant reminder: Black Life Matters. Yet the police response to the recent home invasion reported by NBA star Ray Allen raises more questions about the value of African American families in the eyes of the justice system. The incident gives us yet another view into the double standard applied when African Americans are involved in a crime, whether as suspects, or in this case, as victims.

 

allen1Ray & Shannon Allen with two of their children

According to USA Today and other sources, seven intruders entered the home of Ray Allen late one night while he was away. However, Allen’s wife and four young children were at home. When Shannon Allen awoke to the sound of loud male voices close by (she had been asleep with the kids), she was startled to find herself in the presence of at least five young men. Fearing for the safety of her family, Ms. Allen yelled at the intruders, who fled (some of them laughing). She then dialed 9-1-1 for help.

Police told Ms. Allen that they could not detain the youths because under current laws, an officer has to witness the trespass in order for charges to be brought.

According to the basketball star’s press release, the police also said that the incident was nothing more than a harmless prank. The intruders were not arrested because “there was no intent to commit a crime,” and because the curious teens just wanted to have a look around his mansion.

It took a week for the Allen’s attorney to finally get the police to file charges (still only a misdemeanor, by the way). The story was reported on the CBS News website like this:

Police said Alana Elizabeth Garcia, 18, Jorge Jesus Guerrero, 18, Christian John Lobo, 18, Jonathan Louis Ramirez, 19, Kevin Ramos, 18, Ernesto Romero, 18, and Angel Alejandro, 18, reportedly went into Allen’s Coral Gables home around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, entering through an unlocked door.

Although I’m tempted, I’m not even going to speculate right now. But the cumulative impact of bizarre events reported over the last few weeks is reopening latent concerns. Once more, and I know I’m not alone, I find myself asking, where can African Americans feel safe? Where can we let our children lay their heads without worrying whether uninvited strangers will interrupt their slumber? When will the police protect black lives as vigorously as they protect other Americans?

The racial climate these days reminds me of the Dred Scott decision that I learned about in high school history. Remember that infamous case from 1857 in Missouri? It’s the one where the Supreme Court held that blacks have no rights that whites need to respect. I recall being taught that the flawed Supreme Court decision had been overturned by the 13th and 14th amendments. But recent official acts of disrespect for black lives and concerns is making me feel like Dred Scott is bouncing back in full force.

Quickly checking the facts of that case, I noticed the way that the Chief Justice rationalized the Court’s decision was even more outrageous than how I remembered it. Wikipedia has the Chief Justice stating his reasons for not allowing blacks to have citizenship rights as follows:

It would give to persons of the negro race …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.

As if granting equal rights would be a bad thing.

So let me summarize the “take away” messages I fear the American public receives from recent events in the media: When a frightened African American mother calls the police for protection, regardless of how wealthy she is, no matter how exclusive her neighborhood of residence, she should not expect much. Because after all, blacks have no rights that whites are bound to respect. Black kids are not as valuable as non-black kids, and black families are worth less than others.

And then there’s the wink and nod to every perpetrator thinking of victimizing an African American: “We showed you with the Zimmerman verdict, and reinforced it with countless black lives lost at the at the hands of the police. Just last week, St. Louis cops showed you again how to claim self-defense to ‘justify’ the killing of a mentally disturbed youth. And now with the home invasion of the Allen family residence, the message is the same: You needn’t fear any serious legal consequences. Because most people understand that black lives don’t matter.”

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How to support the movement for justice

If you are outraged, like I am, by this summer’s rash of incidents of police brutality in Missouri, California, New York, and elsewhere, there are concrete steps you can take to support the movement against the use of excessive force. Each of us can and should be contributing to community efforts to police trigger-happy officers. In the process, we should be raising awareness of the criminalization of youth of color that increasingly justifies the use of excessive force, particularly in communities of color.

DreamDefenders_8col

In this day and age of public fund-raising using social media, I find it eerie to watch thousands of dollars being raised to support Darren Wilson’s legal defense, even though it appears unlikely that the officer will be indicted or brought to trial for killing Michael Brown. Symbolically, these fund-raising efforts have come to reflect the mood of the people. I feel strongly that progressive adults need to find ways to stand with young people, especially those who understandably feel under attack. Fund-raising is an easy yet meaningful way that those of us with decent jobs and steady incomes can offer real support.

In this post, I highlight one organization led by youth of color. There are others, but this one caught my attention as I’ve been following the news out of Ferguson. I encourage readers to check out their website and learn more about the work they are doing, and then consider making a donation.

Dream Defenders emerged in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing. Dream Defenders is circulating a video that illustrates a creative approach to organizing. (I tried to post it here, but apparently Word Press doesn’t accept the mp4 format I have it in.) The activists issued six demands, presented here in their own words from the end of the video:

1. President Obama should go to Ferguson to meet with local black and brown youth.

2. Attorney General Holder should meet with black and brown youth across the country that are dealing with “zero tolerance” and “broken windows” policing.”

3. Assure transparency, accountability, and safety of our communities by requiring front-facing cameras in police departments with records of racial disparity in stops, arrests, killings, and excessive force complaints.

4. Cops need consequences too. Police officers who discharge their weapon on an unarmed person should be suspended without pay pending further investigation, and their name and policing histories should be made available to the public.

5.Tanks and tear gas don’t ever belong in our communities. America should not be going to war with its citizens. Demilitarize all police departments.

6. Police should be representative of the communities they are tasked to protect and serve and community members should have real power in citizen review boards.

“We are asking young people to go to the U.S. attorneys’ office near you and demand change… This is a national problem, and we are going to apply pressure nationally.”

Let’s support this movement for justice being led by youth. Time for sympathetic adults to step up and demand change. Let’s demonstrate our love for and solidarity with young people of color.

dream defenders logo

White adoptive parents and Ferguson’s mayor

It occurred to me that readers may be wondering about the connection between my recent posts about the rebellion taking place in Ferguson, Missouri and the main topic of this blog, which is transracial adoption. For those who still haven’t figured it out, it can be summed up as the huge gap in perception and experience between people of color and whites.

stop lynching1Whether we are talking about race relations in a multiracial suburb such as Ferguson or in the microcosm of transracial families, when people of different races try to dialogue about their very divergent perspectives, things can get tense really fast. In this post, I will comment on the mayor of Ferguson, who reminds me of many white adoptive parents I have encountered over the years. This will offend some people, of course, but keep in mind, I am writing this in solidarity with the young people demanding justice, and as always, with transracial adoptees.

Regarding the growing rebellion of Ferguson’s black community, recall that the police shooting death of Mike Brown was merely the spark. The unarmed teen’s body was left chillingly to lie in the street for five hours. An ambulance was never called. The callous treatment of Mike’s body in the aftermath of the shooting sent a clear message of intimidation to the witnesses and neighbors gathered around. It wasn’t just the cold-blooded killing of another black youth that sparked the furor. But Mike Brown’s death set off the spark for a rebellion that now won’t go away quietly.

 The mainstream media has been a mixed blessing. The problem for me is the constant parade of talking heads who provide running commentary on the unfolding drama. Some of these individuals have no legitimacy to speak about the rebellion. For example, why Mark O’Mara is touted as a credible consultant is beyond me. As the lawyer who exploited the laws so Trayvon Martin’s killer could get away with murder, it is insulting to Trayvon’s parents and supporters to have to see O’Mara’s face during this time of grief. I have already complained to CNN, and I urge other allies to do the same.

But the main problem is this: The media’s reliance on police leaders for information and insight muddies the waters when we are trying to define the problem. It’s not hard to understand why: The police are the reason for the protests in the first place.

Let’s say your community was repeatedly wounded, harassed, and disrespected by another group with tons of power to treat you however they want. I will use a non-controversial example instead of police. Let’s say coaches were notorious for harassing, intimidating, and even murdering young people in your community. Would you appeal to coaches as a group for help? Would you trust coaches to hear you and to fix the problem? I highly doubt it. I think a more intelligent move would be to look elsewhere for assistance. To engage in dialogue with coaches, the very group that has been harassing and oppressing you, would seem pointless and futile.

And if coaches, of all people, were then assigned to monitor and patrol your protest gatherings as you organized to redress your grievances against coaches, you would have to be damn near a saint to stay respectful, calm, and dignified in the face of such blatant disregard of your grievances. Especially when those coaches pointed loaded guns in your direction, mounted armored vehicles, and lobbed teargas at your group for no apparent reason, in an attempt to provoke a violent reaction.

To continue with the analogy, putting coaches in charge of patrolling protests against coaches just throws gasoline on the fire. Smarter local community leaders would say, “Okay, apparently we have a problem between coaches and youth. Let’s give the two sides some time apart, and send in some mediators to calm the situation and hear their grievances. We can’t have coaches and protesters battling it out every night in the streets.” But this is not what has happened, is it? Don’t you wonder why?

And to top it all off, the media then cozies up to coach experts and spokespersons for the coaches, as if they have any legitimacy or ability to comment on the situation. The people are clearly at war with coaches, and for good reason, yet the media relies on coaches for commentary, statistics about arrests, insight into the problem, and so on. Every time they put a coach spokesperson on the air, the media betrays the community. If I were a protester in the struggle against coaches, I would be furious and want unsympathetic media out of my neighborhood.

It is hard to raise public awareness of police abuses when so many Americans have an almost knee jerk loyalty to the police. Over-identification with law enforcement makes it difficult for many to sympathize with the protesters. Add to that widespread ignorance about what it feels like to be policed by an occupying force that fears and despises you, and there is little basis for cross-racial dialogue.

I almost wanted to laugh the other morning listening to the mayor of Ferguson once again state with a straight face that there are no racial divisions in Ferguson. How can he be so out of touch with what is happening to the African American members of his community? For the same reason that many white adoptive parents can’t relate to the racial hostility their kids of color experience. Unbelievable that this is the sort of ignorant political leadership the black community has to put up with. And equally sad that many transracial adoptees have to put up with clueless family members.

The mayor sounded like some old plantation owner, as if he were boasting that “Our darkies are happy. None of them ever wanted to run away until now. Not until those trouble makers came in from the outside.” Ignorance might be laughable, or even forgivable, if the consequences weren’t so deadly.

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HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT!

Get over your denial

None of us wants to believe the stats. It can feel too painful and demoralizing to admit the truth. But when our sons and brothers know from first-hand experience how bad it is out there, and we do not believe them or stand with them, then we become part of the problem.

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No wonder there is still a widening racial divide in the United States. People who are on intimate terms with African Americans understand the sad reality, while the majority has no clue just how hostile things can feel for black boys and men.

The appalling treatment and blatant disrespect shown to black males, particularly to the young, may not be visible to you personally. But talk to a typical African American boy or young man, and he can tell you just how often abuse, harassment, plain rudeness, fear, and hostility are directed his way.

They are not making this up. Then think about how the fear-based hostility they experience on any given day adds up over time. It gives rise to systemic racial profiling. It gives rise to an atmosphere in which the lives of black youth depend on the interpretations of adults who fear them, adults who are charged to perceive danger and then use surveillance, detention, arrest, and even lethal force to prevent danger from harming the public.

This pervasive mistrust of black boys and youth contributes to a social climate that seeks to keep black youth down, under control, and then seeks to separate them from the general population as if black boys and youth are the primary problem. No wonder the prisons are filled with our sons and brothers. I’m not saying all black males are innocent and never commit criminal acts. I’m pointing out how the criminalization of all black men in the minds of the majority authorities leads to racial inequities and disparities.

Given this climate, why should our sons trust the police? Why should they respect security guards and other officials who seem so intent on monitoring and controlling them? Given the FBI statistics on “justifiable homicide” between 2005 and 2012 that show that, on average, an African American is shot by police twice a week, why should the parents of black boys trust law enforcement to protect our sons?

On top of that, given the dismal rate of investigations, arrests, and prosecutions of officers for killing black citizens, why should the black community trust the courts, grand juries, or the police to bring justice?

And people wonder what all the fuss is about in Ferguson, Missouri. Local police left Mike Brown, who one of their officers ordered to “get the fuck on the sidewalk” right before shooting him 6 times and killing him in broad daylight, lying uncovered on the street bleeding to death FOR 5 HOURS. No ambulance was called. Video footage shows that they barely checked to see if the youth was still alive.

This kind of treatment speaks volumes about how insensitively many police departments act towards black families and communities. Think of the impact on neighbors and children who must witness these kinds of aftermath scenes, and who have their own problematic interactions with the police. The sad truth is that many officers entrusted to serve and to protect DO NOT SEE US AS HUMAN BEINGS. They see black males of all ages, from boys to men, as problems to be monitored and contained. To be feared and controlled. To be shot in cold blood when officers feel threatened. And look how often officers tell us they felt threatened as the reason they used lethal force. Oh well, what’s one more dead black male except one less problem to worry about?

And herein lies the problem. Blacks are not seen as equals, as fellow human beings worthy of respect, but as subhuman, potentially dangerous animals.

I am not condemning individual police as racists. I am telling you that this is the social conditioning that all Americans are raised with. We are raised to understand that black life does not count as much as white life.

This is our reality. And for my friends, colleagues, and family members who cannot believe it is this bad, you need to get a clue. Your privileged reality is so vastly different from mine and my sons, and that of my black friends and students and neighbors. Get a clue and stand with us. Or at least have the good sense to think carefully before trying to argue with me about my paranoid “perceptions.” Better yet, become informed and then step up and help us call for justice. And while you’re at it, tell your buddies and your leaders and media personalities to stop trying to blame the victims of oppression.

Until more of our allies wake up and do this, we will not have peace in the streets, let alone begin to heal the racial divide that is pulling our nation apart.