When Josh and I were looking to buy a home, we knew we wanted to be on Hilltop. We love that it is diverse, lively, and ever changing. Hilltop is an area of Tacoma that was known for gang violence and drugs in the 80’s and 90’s. It was pretty brutal for a while there. Crips ran the show. Shoot outs were common and white kids like me from the burbs were not allowed to pass through. While visiting St. Joseph’s hospital to see a friend in high school, I was instructed to “just roll through the lights after dark, don’t stop.”
We now own a home within a stones throw from the hospital (okay, you’d have to have a really good arm). I can see the window of the room I birthed Leif in from our front porch. We have the most incredible block of neighbors I could have ever dreamed of. We are diverse in color, socio-economics, religion, and interests. We are made up of African Americans, Native Kenyans, Asians, Native Americans, Caucasians and Latino. We are artists, lawyers, nurses, teachers, runners, mountain climbers, gardeners, dog lovers, cat lovers…. We take care of each other and celebrate each other.
There are several “mixed race” families on my block. There is a white woman who is raising 4 compassionate, intelligent, and gorgeous children with her black husband. Every time I see these kids, I’m inspired. They are seriously some of the sweetest kids I have ever met. There are 3 boys and 1 girl. All of them are a delight to be around…I’m counting the days until they are old enough to babysit! Their parents are incredible. This is why they are such wonderful kids, I am sure. I’ve been watching closely as their mom responds to the recent events in Baltimore. I’ve been trying to empathize with what it means to raise black children…black boys in particular, in a country where black people continue to be systematically discriminated against, targeted by police and murdered at their hands. Its hard to grasp. In addition to all my anxieties about Leif’s future– his physical and emotional well being– she, along with other mothers raising black children, must also worry that they will treated poorly…or even killed… at the hands of the system.
I have mostly stayed quiet about the killing of black people at the hands of the police. Sure, I’ve talked about it with close friends and family,trying to work through the mess in my mind. But the murder of Freddie Gray has left me with a gut wrenching feeling and the need to speak out more publicly about my thoughts. You see, it is the same “oh my god I’m going to vomit” feeling I had when studying in South Africa and learning about police brutality under the Apartheid Regime. It was so easy to be critical of the South African government and the lack of action from every day white South Africans. Yet in my own country, I find it so much harder to speak out. I do not know anyone within my circle of contacts that would justify the Apartheid governments brutality. But its happening in our own country. In our own cities. And it leaves me feeling disgusted. We can and MUST do better, America.
We see images in the media of the riots in Baltimore–the looting, the destruction of property. Officials call for “peace”. And while I do not condone the looting and violent rioting, I see the hypocrisy in calling for “peace” when a community member has just had their spine severed by police. I also understand how there are some who might not know how to express their anger, grief, fear in a less violent way. But let’s be honest–smashing a window is not the same as smashing a spine. If we want to talk about peace–let’s start by talking about how to put an end to systematic violence by our police. Let’s also look at the 10s of thousands people who are protesting peacefully and the gang members themselves who are “united as black men” as one put it to help keep the peace and also seek justice for Freddie Gray. You do not have to be a cop hater to hate the fact that people are being murdered at their hands and no one is holding them accountable–Although, I just heard today that the 6 officers are being charged.
It was a difficult week indeed. And I’m white! I can’t imagine what this week would have been like if I was black or raising a black child. I have the privilege of being of European dissent. When a police officer speaks disrespectfully to be and I tell him there is no need to be sarcastic (this happened last year when I was pulled over for not having my lights on) -I get a shocked look and then politely told to remember to keep my lights on. I don’t get put in a choke hold or my spine snapped. I don’t worry about Leif being illegally arrested (I also heard today that Freddie Gray’s arrest has been proven illegal) and killed by police. I don’t have to beat Leif over the head with my purse and chase him away from a riot in fear that he will be killed by police (because let’s be real, that viral video of the woman chasing her son from the riot was not a “go home” message as so many people portrayed but rather a mother’s fear–she’d do anything to keep her baby out of the hands of police…because so many black men have died in those hands).
This week, a familiar emotion came over me. It was shame. The first time I went to South Africa, I was so ashamed of my white skin. Now, just as I did then, I must figure out what it means for me to respond to this feeling of shame in a productive way because shame is not productive.
Longing for my country to be truly free.