There is a story that many Americans don’t often tell. It is the story of walking down the street without worrying. It is the story of being given the benefit of the doubt. And It is the story of being presumed innocent.
The reason this story goes untold is because those of us who are experiencing it – those of us with skin that is neither brown nor black, whose economic stature is steady, and whose kids attend safe and well-supported schools – aren’t thinking about it. In fact, truthfully, we don’t even feel it happening. Living without fear and bias is part of our unconscious and subconscious experience – the stable and safe reality underlying the ups and downs of our days.
So why would we need to talk about it? Why is it a story worth telling?
Why? Because it is more than a story. It is the reality of being afforded human dignity. And within our country, that privilege – that right to human dignity – does not belong to all, particularly if you are a young male of color.
“The reality we have to face, and change, is that we live in a society in which black lives have been demeaned and devalued.”
These are the words of Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, from a recent Huffington Post article entitled, Race in America: Changing Reality By Facing It. Weingarten sees the self-acknowledging of white privilege as the first step in addressing the racism that continues to pervade our society.
“Those of us who aren’t regularly subject to outright prejudice have a moral obligation to do the hard and perhaps uncomfortable work of digging into unconscious and semiconscious behaviors and attitudes about race. And that includes taking a look at our own privilege.” To take a look at ourselves, she suggests, is to begin to understand the reality of others. And from that, follows action.
Weingarten’s call to action includes embarking on legislative change. AFT”s Racial Equity Task Force has released a report focusing on ways to end institutional racism within the criminal justice system, the economic realm, and most specifically, in education. It looks at the bias inherent in school discipline policies, as well as offers steps for creating safe, welcoming public schools where students are engaged – in particular, she says, boys of color.
However, Weingarten concedes that legislative action is only one piece of the puzzle in tackling a problem as large and multi-layered as racism. It’s the talking about it that matters most – by those of us who experience it, but also by those of us who don’t. She writes the following: There is a saying from the Talmud: ‘Silence is akin to consent.’ We must call out hate and hostility that play to fears and frustration and honor the humanity of all people.”
At Story For All, we share this believe that giving voice to a story can be the first step in a far greater journey of healing. And we embrace and honor the courage involved in this process. It may be a story that is difficult to tell, or even acknowledge… but how it feels to tell that story, who listens, and where that story travels, may transform minds and hearts, if not policies. SFA’s The Shine initiative is dedicated to bringing out the vibrant and powerful voices of our youth of color and taking the steps to afford them the long overdue dignity and rights they deserve. May we one day all walk without worry.
Image below borrowed from The American Federation of Teachers website.