Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can There Be A Conversation?

I have not responded to the most outrageous manifestations of racism that have occurred over the past months. And that is what it is, I believe. It is also classism, for that is also part of the story. It is difficult  to discuss in a country where there is not supposed to be such a thing as "class," in spite of the fact that there is. It is also not easy to have honest dialogue about it or race.
Take the police, for instance. My only contacts with the police involved minor traffic incidents. It is extremely intimidating to hear a siren and see flashing lights in you rear view mirror. But I am white and an older woman, and the police have generally been polite but brusk. I've dared to argue a couple of times, but I was never been pulled out of my car and made to put my hands on the car roof. I am white. And when you think about it in this gun crazy country, a policeman stopping a car is generally more at risk than the occupant of the car.
I find myself wondering what kind of people want to be police? Is it a sincere desire to be of use in the community? Is it a family legacy? Is it a desire to protect the neighborhoods and the people? Is it a way to demonstrate one's willingness to take risks?
Is it a desire for power? Is it a way to carry a gun legitimately?  Is it the uniform?
Then I I wonder about the selection process. I know there are educational requirements.Are there  tests to weed out things like mental instability?  How subjective are the observations during training as to the suitability for this important profession? How do they deal with racial issues during and after trading? And why are so many of them built like steers?
Those kinds of questions need to be explored honestly, since the recent tragic deaths of unarmed Black men and a CHILD were caused by the people who are supposed to protect the people of communities they live and/ or work in.
Another, more difficult conversation is about the poor, Black communities, which are in chaos, with high rates of school violence,  kids dropping out before graduation, leaving young Black men with few or no skills to find jobs, young single mother teen-age girls trying to survive and trying to keep their children from being  killed, trapped with few job skills, inadequate child care, and all the ills of poverty. It's hard enough rearing a family alone, but if you have little hope, you are vulnerable to all sorts of personal and public dangers. There are people who survive bad beginnings, but there are too many who don't. Poverty debilitated the spirit as well as the body.
When my friend Susan and I did one of our storytelling workshops in Cincinnati a few years ago, two of our students were women who taught in kindergartens in the inner city. What they said about some of their students has stuck with me: children were showing up for kindergarten with minimal language skills. They were not talking about immigrants,  they were talking about American children who could not put a sentence together at the age of 5. How were these children going to able to tackle little black squiggles on white paper, when their oral language deficit was so great? (I am waiting for someone to do a doctoral dissertation on this issue, which might help to explain why so many inner city schools are dealing with so many kids just giving up.)
It's hard to talk about this sort of thing without sounding racist, even though it's evidence based from many studies, but it's the sort of thing that needs to be addressed to relieve the anomie that persists in poor Black communities. Can we talk about this ?
This is in noway to blame what has happened to those recently blatantly murdered by "law" officers. I wrote about this to demonstrate how hard it is to discuss race issues honestly.
George Bernard Shaw's  "Pygmalion" was about class, the rigid British system of his day. It was not a love story about Eliza and Henry, but  a demonstration of that rigidity and the upper class demand that everyone behave like "" us." It was Alfred Doolittle who took Henry Higgins down with his speech of  " middle class morality" that was seen as the ideal way of life. All people should not have to live the same way, and cultures are different even in the same communities. However, everyone wants a safe and healthy place to live and rear their children, everyone needs the food of hope. Everyone wants their sons to live.
I don't know the answers, but there must be some, right?

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