If we’re going to cut through the crazy…
…and get to the truth, the left brain must get on the same page with the right brain.
That’s what I like about these three pieces.
Piece 1 (a view from the right side of the brain):
Benjamin Watson, The problem is not a SKIN problem—
At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
There’s more, and it’s all worth reading.
What I like about this is how Mr. Watson doesn’t minimize the historical (and current) wounding of black America by whites, but also doesn’t shy away from the truth of each situation.
I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I think that balance is so critical.
It drives a lot of people crazy, frankly, when analytical right wingers like me approach tragedies like the Michael Brown killing and its aftermath in Ferguson, with dispassionate, almost clinical defense of facts.
And, in an important way, they’re right.
I find myself answering people in a way that not only minimizes a very real, almost intractable problem—but virtually obliterates it as a factor to be considered at all.
I sometimes gloss over the issue of continuing mishandling by (some) police of young black men.
I know it’s happening, and yet I virtually change the subject and point to this or that way American society has changed, grown, and healed over the past 50-60 years.
And it’s true, all of it.
Too many people are being stopped, and worse, for driving while black.
Piece 2 (personal experience):
Gary Fields, Wall Street Journal: What It Felt Like to Be a ‘Suspicious’ Black Teenager—
It was the late 1970s, and I was that large, 17-year-old, high-school kid—getting good grades and college-bound. I was walking home from Bowlero, a bowling alley in Alexandria, La., on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I was carrying my bowling bag, complete with a 16-pound ball, shoes and a towel.
I noticed police cars speeding around. Several passed before a Louisiana state trooper stopped. He told me to be careful: There had been a fatal shooting in my neighborhood, and the suspect—a 5-foot-6-inch black man—had escaped on a bicycle.
It would have been awesome had the story ended there. Unfortunately Mr Fields then encountered a sheriff’s deputy who wasn’t as enlightened.
I walked on until I heard a screech of brakes and looked back. A Rapides Parish sheriff’s deputy—Louisiana has parishes, not counties—got out, crouched behind his car door and pointed his .357-Magnum at me over the top of the door. When you’re on the wrong end of it, the barrel of a .357 looks exactly like a tunnel to eternity.
I knew a few things instinctively: Don’t run, don’t move, don’t argue, and above all, don’t ask why I’d been stopped. Stay calm to live, I thought. The cop had the gun, but it was my responsibility not to do anything to push him to use lethal force against me.
“Turn around real slow,” he said. That’s just what I did. I asked if it was OK to put down the bowling bag, slowly. I knew I had to do everything I could not to create any fear in the officer. Dead but innocent is still dead.
I said little, even as the deputy pushed me down on the hood of his car and handcuffed me.
I was saved when the state trooper who had first stopped me drove back by. He ripped into the deputy, asking him questions, and I answered—which, in another situation, could have been a comedy routine. Does this kid look 5-6? I answered, I’m 6-3. Does this kid look 40? I’m 17. Does this kid look 150 pounds? I’m 230.
As far as I can tell from reading, but also talking with friends who’ve been through these circumstances, this is still not an isolated circumstance.
And it doesn’t matter to the victim whether it’s old-fashioned racism (as it appeared to be in this story) or simply stupidity brought on by reliance on frightening stereotypes.
Here’s something I keyed in on the second time I read this:
- Notice that there are two cops.
- One acts inappropriately.
- One does not.
Not every cop is a racist.
Not every cop overreacts.
Not every tragic event between a white officer and a young black man is one more validation of the Whites undervalue the lives of Blacks narrative.
Which is why I value the third piece.
Piece 3 (a view from the left side of the brain):
Ashley Thorne, National Association of Scholars: “Teaching” Ferguson—
A new hashtag is trending on Twitter for the second time this fall—the first was in August shortly after police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This time the hashtag’s prominence comes as a response to the announcement Monday night of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson.
“I am quelling my anger by taking refuge in the #FergusonSyllabus tag. Education is power,” tweeted a library and technology teacher from Chicago. “Thinking of how to channel my tears, disappointment, and profound anger into solidarity & activism in research & teaching #FergusonSyllabus” wrote a PhD student at Indiana University. One high school teacher, whose courses are in “human geography,” said she had “Scrapped today’s lesson plan to talk about Ferguson. Thanks to the #fergusonsyllabus for ideas.”
Though it’s being referred to with a definite article, there is no one particular “Ferguson syllabus.” Rather, a set of groups, including the New York Times Learning Network, the National Education Association, and The Atlantic, are offering what they call “resources” for bringing the lessons of the Michael Brown case to their classrooms.
There is so much to learn in tragedy and its aftermath, and teachers are right to equip their students for that learning.
But I wonder—don’t you?—about what, exactly, they are being taught.
Michael Brown’s death was untimely and unfortunate. So is the racial unrest that should no longer afflict this country, but does. Clearly we are in the midst of a long and painful racial misunderstanding. It is right to ask, “can’t we learn anything from this?”
The shapers of the Ferguson syllabus concept think so. But the lessons are limited; for instance, this isn’t a time to talk about the importance of weighing evidence in pursuit of the truth. As with much of the media maelstrom swirling around this story, most of which included “white police officer” and “black unarmed teenager” in reporting, the main thing in #Fergusonsyllabus is the perpetuation of one narrative: racism in America. It is a narrative in no danger of neglect in our schools, and not the only relevant one in this story.
The writer points to a hard truth:
Another way to see Ferguson is to view it as a consequence of American indulgence of identity politics nationwide. In school and college, students are encouraged to see bias everywhere. That nurturing of grievance doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it does not lead to deeper human unity but to the intensification of racial polarity. #Fergusonsyllabus is an effort to capitalize on this particular moment in time to continue the grievance-mongering while acting as if talking about racism in school is a new thing.
. . .
On Monday all documented evidence in the case, which the grand jury members painstakingly sifted through over the course of several months, was released to the public. It is easily accessible online, and you can click on any testimony transcript, photo of physical evidence, autopsy report, or forensic analysis.
But is that what Marcia Chatelain did when she “taught” Ferguson yesterday in her history classes? According to her Twitter account, she “Had students finish statements in pairs: When I heard the news from the grand jury/When I think of Michael Brown’s parents.” Another pair Chatelain asked students to complete was “When I talk to my friends about Ferguson/What scares me the most.” She focused on feelings rather than facts.
A term I’ve heard several times recently in conversation with college students and recent alumni is “emotional safety.” Students believe their college ought to keep them insulated from offenses. But that’s not the college’s job – no college campus should be a cozy bubble of homogenous thought. Beyond emotional safety, however, should be a concern for staying in touch with reality, and keeping students cognizant of the world as it actually is. Training them to react in fear and anger won’t accomplish this.
When he read the decision Monday night, St. Louis prosecutor Robert P. McCullough said that the grand jury’s role had been to “separate fact from fiction,” and he took media to task for distorting the truth by insisting on a storyline before the credibility of all the witnesses could be evaluated and the testimony held up against physical and other evidence. At least one faculty member, David M. Perry of Dominican University, is encouraging others to follow the jurors’ example and go to the primary sources.
But it appears that Marcia Chatelain and most of the other #Fergusonsyllabus hashtag users are continuing to insist on their preferred storyline. They are right that this case presents a teachable moment. It is a moment teachers and faculty members—no matter what they think of the jury’s decision—can use to have students consider the importance of always trying to find out what really happened. We live in a world of hearsay, hyperbole, and hoaxes, and we all have to do as McCullough said and separate fact from fiction. American life could be vastly different if we all practiced deliberately trying to understand things that anger us. We need to teach students shrewdness in the way they come to their opinions. Colleges today call this “critical thinking.” They could also call it truth-seeking.
There is a frustrating circularity in much of our political “logic.”
- How do you know this particular thing is true?
- Because every time it’s happened before it’s been true.
- Give me an example.
- There was THIS thing.
- How do you know THAT was true?
- Because every time it’s happened before it’s been true.
- What if it WASN’T true?
- It HAD to be true.
- Because I feel it.
We must begin teaching people how to analyze as well as feel (and, while we’re at it, equip them to analyze their own feelings).
It is imperative that we know what the truth is, in every tragic circumstance.
Each loss of life deserves its own investigation.
It is immoral to consign a human being’s death to the advancement of anybody’s narrative.
Whether yours, mine, or theirs over there.
It is only truth that will set us free.
So what makes us so afraid of it?