I'm thinking about children.
My parents were six years old In 1955. That's the same year a fourteen year old Black boy named Emmitt Till was pulled from his relative's home in Mississippi by white men. Those men, fueled by anger and racism, kidnapped young Emmitt – brutalized him, tortured him, mutilated him, maimed him, murdered him and sank him to the bottom of a pond to rot forever. Emmitt lost his life that summer and my young parents lost their innocence. By the time Emmitt's mom laid him to rest in an open casket, with his grotesque body on display for all to see, the world had changed for an entire generation of young Black children. Their hearts had been filled with fear, their self image had been attacked and the sharp edge of society's rage had pierced their hearts and left a festering wound deep in their memories. The death of Michael Brown may leave a similar wound in the memories of your children.
I'm thinking about parents.
Parents strive for one common goal, for their children to have it better than they had it – a better education, a better home, a better community, a better life, in a better world. Michael Brown's parents held this goal sacred as well, until it was shattered by the bullets of a police officer, aiming at their unarmed son. Now parents all over the nation are being forced to sit down with their own children, to explain this senseless loss of life and the chaotic aftermath it has spawned. These conversations are awkward and heartbreaking. Parents of all races are discussing old realities with their children – racism, civil rights, American history, police brutality and believe it or not, survival. Yes, Black parents are being forced to teach an added lesson, "what to do if stopped by the police." As these parents struggle to find the words, they do so accepting the alarming notion that the world their children are growing up in, might not be any better than the one they grew up in. In fact, it may be worse.
I'm thinking about social media.
You think you know people. Actually, a more accurate statement is we never give much thought to who we think we know. We simply know them – from work, from school, through friends, family or acquaintances. There's a false sense of security that comes with a familiar face or name. You innocently associate them with other familiar faces and names of people you actually know well. So you follow them on Twitter, you connect on LinkedIn, you friend them on Facebook. Then a tragedy happens, like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford or Michael Brown. When these stories, loaded with social and racial context, begin to dominate the news, the conversation steeps over into social media. People begin to speak, emote and reveal themselves and their deep hearted views. Some do so boldy, while others take a more subtle approach, simply liking or retweeting views that line up with theirs. Regardless, a social footprint is left and a stance is taken for the world to see. These stances often lead to arguments, grudges, unfriending people you thought you knew, and becoming leery of learning the views of those you know you don't know. Regardless of your views, your social media experience has been changed forever.
I'm thinking about my own innocence.
The loss of innocence is equal parts eye-opening and heartbreaking. You mourn the illusion of simplicity and perfection that was never really sustainable anyway. Meanwhile, you gain the experience of dealing with pain and healing yourself, while learning to prepare for more of it. I lost my innocence when I learned about slavery as a really young child, sitting with my parents watching the mini-series Roots. It was a jarring blow for my young delicate mind. But with that blow came my sense of racial pride and an urgency to learn not only about our struggle but our triumphs. That loss of innocence changed me forever, for the better. Other memorable moments of innocence lost include the Atlanta Child Murders. the first time someone screamed "nigger" from a passing car and the death of Yusef Hawkins. These were the moments from childhood that forced me to deal with a new reality, develop a more acute awareness of my surroundings and prepare myself for the threats it held. Not only did my emotional stability depend on it, so did my life, so much so that I wonder if I'd even be here had those moments not happened.
Innocence is overrated, and the mistake isn't in losing it, but in guarding it to begin with. Too many of us shape our perspectives based on ideals and fantasies about how we wish the world could be. But by guarding ourselves from the cruelty and pain that exists beyond our own version of reality, not only do we deny our own human struggle, we deny everyone else's. We also deny the real work that needs to be done to achieve our ideal world. Our world is in chaos, from Ferguson to the Gaza Strip, from Mexico to the Congo. And the residue of this chaos has a way of showing up on your front door, when you least expect it. You should be reading and gathering information with such urgency that your fears, ignorance and misconceptions are confronted daily. You should be sharing information. You should be having uncomfortable conversations with people, in person and even on social media. And most importantly, you should be talking to your children.
Your children are the next generation of Darren Wilsons and Michael Browns. How they interact in the future, what roles they play in each other's lives and through what eyes they see each other will depend on what you're saying or not saying today. Open your mouth, they deserve a lot more from you, than i̶n̶n̶o̶c̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ ignorance. One luv.