I am not the author of this piece. A co-worker of my daughter wrote this as a Facebook post. My daughter sent it to me, thinking I would like it. I didn’t. I LOVED it! That author’s name is Christy Garrison Guise. Hope you all find it as thought provoking as I did! (Side note: I reformatted it for readability. Copying and pasting multiple times messed it up, so forgive me Christy if I didn't get it right!) She writes:
I need some help.
My brain is arguing with itself (again) It all started when I was brushing my teeth. I kept thinking about hindsight and how it is 20/20 and where that fits in with everything. I began to think about this notion of heritage and pride and how people keep asking how we can have pride for a heritage that stood for slavery and hate.
I started thinking about the people that these monuments represent and whether or not they were good people or bad people. I started thinking about how maybe they did the best they could at the time. About how the environment in which they were raised conditioned them in such a way that they thought they were doing the right thing. Or maybe it conditioned them to not think at all. No. They should have known better. And then I thought "where have I heard that before?" I tell myself that all the time- when I think back to my youth and all of the mistakes I have made and all of the times my flawed thinking sent my my morals and my rationale askew. "I should have known better" I hear it when my parents shake their head at my parenting conundrums, as if I should know at 41 what they know at 70. "You should have known better" But mostly I hear it at school.
AND HERE IS WHERE MY BRAIN BEGAN ITS ARGUMENT.
I don't profess to know the solution as to how we rid this world of racism and intolerance. What I do know is that what is happening now is not moving us closer to that goal. In fact, it seems to be making it worse. The racial and cultural divide in this country has implored us to view systemic racism in a certain light and to analyze the ways in which white privilege and institutionalized oppression has created a cycle that has been detrimental to our black communities. How the crime and poverty are a direct result of this perpetual cycle that feeds into our communities and makes progress difficult to say the least. How the children in these communities get caught up in lifestyles that stem from institutionalized racism and our lack of understanding plus, our unwillingness to recognize these factors, perpetuates the cycle even more and catapults these students into adult lifestyles that are riddled with drugs, poverty and crime- where they get caught up in an unjust prison system that thinks harsher punishment and zero- tolerance is the cure. A system that needs serious reform. Reform. That's interesting. I'll come back to that.
Now I agree with all of the above. I see it day in and day out in the faces of my students. The day the school system recognized that punishment is not the only way to deal with these students and that we, as educators, need to recognize the effects of trauma and how their environment contributes to their behavior and their negative mindset- I jumped for joy.
Finally! A call for compassion that uses empathy versus criminality to help students break out of their cycle of poor behavior, low self-esteem, and overall disregard for their education. A recognition that screaming and yelling and judging these students (and adults) on their actions without considering the systemic, environmental, and institutional causes- is wrong. The idea that we need to approach their behavior from a place of empathy, compassion, and understanding- that is the key. Yes!
(And now my brain goes haywire)
Wait a minute? If one's environment plays such a role in their development and can contribute to their negative behavior, isn't the same true for those who practice both blatant and sub-conscious racism?
But racists aren't oppressed, they are the oppressor. Are we sure about that? I know many people (including myself) whose eyes have been opened to the existence of white privilege and systemic racism. I know multitudes of individuals who were raised to believe one thing but now believe another. I have sat at dinner parties where passive aggressive comments reek of racism and rolled my eyes at comments meant to bolster the status of white culture. "They aren't bad people, it's just how they were raised" A pathetic excuse for bad behavior. Or is it? Do I hate white supremacists and Neo-Nazis or do I feel sorry for them? Or can I do both? Do I desperately want to punish them? Or do I want to reform them? Can they be reformed from a life in which they senselessly torture and murder other human beings? Isn't that why we want to reform the prison system? Because we believe that breaking that cycle is possible? (Told you I'd come back to it)
Is it possible to only look at the impact institutionalized racism has had on the oppressed or do we also need to look at the impact it has had on everyone in our culture? Have the racists in our society been oppressed by the very culture in which they were raised? Is there not only a prison pipe line but also a racist pipeline that feeds otherwise innocent children into a life of racism and hatred from which they cannot escape without help? That's ridiculous. Their behavior is a choice. Their ability to tell right from wrong has nothing to do with their culture or upbringing.
But Maybe we are all victims of this flawed and senseless thinking? Am I a victim of a subtle form of brainwashing that has conditioned me to view the world a certain way? Are racists victims of an environment that oppressed them into thinking that they are somehow superior? And if we are all victims, just in different forms, how can we purport to treat the actions and behavior of one set of victims with compassion and empathy and yet the other set deserves nothing but hatred and eradication? If we seek to eradicate the effects of institutionalized racism on the black community by using tolerance, empathy, and love on those who cannot help their behavior due to the trauma of their oppressed circumstances- shouldn't we seek to use those same tools to eradicate its effects on those who can't see their own racism due to the trauma of their own oppression?
If it has become clear that black children are still affected by the institutionalized racism brought on by slavery, are white kids subjected to those same affects just on the other side? I cannot and will not feel sorry for racists and those who seek to destroy human beings based on their race. Why not? I wonder what would happen if I took into account the oppressive nature of white culture.
(Here is where you sneer- at the notion that white culture could be oppressive to itself- but just like white culture can't profess to understand the black experience, I would encourage black culture not to profess to understand the white experience either. Just sayin.)
There are many that could tell you first hand about the pressures and expectations of white culture and how they directly affect your world view. Those who are raised and conditioned to believe certain things, find it difficult to break out of that cycle. We know this. We also know that anger doesn't break people of that cycle. Prison time doesn't break people of that cycle. Protests don't break that cycle. Riots don't break that cycle. It doesn't work for one side, which might mean that Punishment, or taking a "zero-tolerance" policy, won't work for the other side either. I will not compare experiences between white and black culture nor will I ever try to equate them. I would never ask people to forgive the behavior of white supremacists or to tolerate it. I just want to get rid of it.
The black experience and the white experience in this country are two totally different things. But there are many diseases that are completely different from one another but that have the same cure. There are many different types of addiction (some worse than others) but they all come from the same place and respond to the same treatment.
I am not trying to excuse anyone's behavior, I am simply trying to find a solution to correcting it. We don't need to rid the world of certain kinds of people, we need to rid certain kinds of people of their hate. And it is possible. Perhaps when any group of people people act out their circumstances in a negative way, the only solution is to counter it with empathy and compassion. Perhaps that is the foundation of "treat others the way you want to be treated". Maybe it also means "heal others the way you want to be healed". Because isn't that what we all want? To be healed? That is all.
(Thoughts and opinions are enormously welcome on this issue since it continues to baffle me, just don't misconstrue what I am saying by missing the point and thinking that I am equating victims. Or that I am saying "just be nice to white supremacists and everything will be fine". I'm not saying that and I didn't say the sicknesses were the same... just questioning the possibility that how we approach the "cures" is...)