The following are some thoughts after attending “Let’s Talk: Ferguson” at Penumbra Theatre, Wednesday, September 10. Sarah Bellamy hosted panelists Dr. Matthew Johnson, Ricardo Levins Morales, and Dr. Soolin Pate. Artistic readings were given by Malik Curtis, Erin Washington, H. Adam Harris, and Gebreil Khadar.
“This is a time of harvest…things that have grown in our community,” Dr. Johnson wasn’t speaking of sweet corn and pumpkins. He was speaking of hate, racism, violence, abuse of systems and people, and overall, our false illusions that race relations and our justice system are better since Freedom Summer. As a country, as a city, we give magnificent narratives of what our programs do to address the violence of racism and the trauma it causes; but they are illusions! He nailed it.
The panel described racism as akin to child abuse. We tell victims not to talk about it. How many Black youth don’t tell family about the police stops, frisking or intimidation exercised by police? A chronically, physically abused child or woman flinches when a man raises his arm, she in readiness to be hit. An officer’s hand reaches towards his holster…what will happen? Just as a child or woman becomes hyper-vigilant, noting the smallest physical movement that might indicate a change in mood and potential abuse. So a Black youth watches the gait or eye movement of an officer to gauge how distrustful the officer is of the youth on the street, ready to what? Run out of fear? Stay and wonder what will happen? And the trauma continues; trauma is about loss of power.
Child abuse and racism have become embedded in our public and private systems and values. The systems continue because someone benefits from perpetuating the behavior. Unfortunately, people of color are punished collectively, by race, while whites are punished by individual crime. I’m left asking myself: what are my assumptions? How do I help stop the trauma? This “View” is admittedly incomplete. We need to look at the role of policing and the methods we use to police our housing, employment, correctional systems, and schools. We need to look within ourselves.
As a white person, how do I perpetuate this power that causes trauma and injustice? Do I condone by my silence? What are my inner feelings and outer reactions on the subject of race? Am I willing to shine the light on the traumas and injustices of racism? What do my neighbors of color ask of me?