Of all the Facebook posts since the murder of George Floyd, two resonate deep within me.
The first was from the mother of a former student of mine. She posted a photo of her young grandson sitting on her son’s shoulders in front of the Christmas tree. Both, wearing red pajamas, seemed overcome with a case of the giggles, not for the camera, but for the sheer joy of being together. “This is why I worry and pray…” she wrote.
As a mother and grandmother, I, too, have worried and prayed for my children. However, because I am white, as are my children and grandchildren, not once did it cross my mind that I should pray to protect them from the police…the very people whose job it is to “protect and serve” them. We told them to look for a police officer if they needed help. That is one example of white privilege.
The other post was from my former student, the daughter of the woman who wrote the first post. She is the mother of the child sitting on his uncle’s shoulders in the Christmas photo. “Let’s talk about ‘the talk,’ ” she wrote. By “the talk” she meant the warnings and lessons that every Black American child receives from parents and grandparents to help them survive. She remembered being told by her grandfather, when she was about seven or eight, never to leave a store without a bag and a receipt for her purchase, even if she bought only a candy bar. When she was a teenager, her driving lessons from her parents included not only how to parallel park, but also how to act if she was pulled over by the police…what to do; what not to do.
These lessons taught to her by her family are so far removed from the life lessons that we taught our children, that I am embarrassed and ashamed of my ignorance of them. What does it do to a child’s self-image when she has to grow up proving her innocence even when she has done nothing wrong? To always wonder how people are judging her? Not be able to trust the very people who have been hired to protect her?
These two, strong, intelligent, Black women, mother and daughter, have had to live with this their entire lives. So did the generation before them, as witnessed by the grandfather’s advice. And so does the generation growing up now. Generations of American citizens still treated as less than equal…all across the country.
Bob Dylan’s question needs an answer. “…how many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died?” One is too many.