How Could This Happen?
I Wonder Why?
For the past several days, these two questions have been asked repeatedly. “How could this happen” to George Floyd (or Ahmaud Abery or Breonna Taylor or to bring it home locally, Nagi Kandasamy)? Or, “I don’t understand, why do police/people do this”? The answer given all too quickly is that it due to racism and that racism is simply something we all can and should just turn off. The other thing we hear a lot is “I’m not racist.”
As an avid reader and stuck at home more hours than I can count, I have been reading way too many books. I finished one about a month ago and just opened it back up today on my Kindle to reread. It is by Ibram X. Kendi, a black man descended from slaves, raised predominantly in black neighborhoods, and educated at a historically black college, who wrote a book, How to Be an Antiracist. In this book, Kendi clearly shows just how deeply racism is woven into the fabric of our society. And, he admits that he was a racist. It is possible/likely that he (like us), still is.
But his point is that to undo racism, we need to acknowledge that it exists, that we are all to some degree racist, and that to undo racism, we need to acknowledge and understand how race has been constructed over time and actively work against.
As a researcher, I often use techniques to encourage people to think a bit differently about things (or get at what we call System 1 thinking) by asking respondents to put themselves in another’s person’s shoes or to attempt to understand why someone else may not act the way you think you would or think they should. One behavior we studied using this technique is bullying. We had teens saying things like “I would never bully someone like that” or “If I saw someone being bullied, I would. . .” or “I don’t understand why someone didn’t. . ..” But then we see teens standing by while knowing/seeing their friends being bullied. Sound familiar?
So, in our bullying research we asked participants to choose a partner. Partner #1 had to say what they would say or do if they were in a group and saw someone being bullied. Partner #2 had to come up with reasons why other people in the crowd observing the same behavior didn’t do what Partner #1 said they should do. The results? Let’s apply this to the current scenario and you will get a sense of what we heard. Here is how a recent conversation of mine just went.
ME: “OMG. That thing I just saw on the news in Minneapolis is the worst thing I have ever seen. I don’t understand how this could happen. Why didn’t the people filming do something? If I had been there, I would have called 911 and kept the dispatcher on the line until they got back-up there.”
MY FRIEND: “Yes it was just awful. But just imagine Becky if you were a black person in a predominantly black neighborhood filming and observing this. Would you be comfortable calling the police?”
ME: “Oh DUH. I never thought about it like that.”
Now, I marched in several protests during the Civil Rights and Vietnam years and if confronted, I would be likely to say, “I am not racist.” However, despite my life experiences and as you can see from the conversation above, I am still in some ways a racist. But I continue to hope that in everything I do I practice antiracism.
So maybe it would help just a bit if all of us in Edmonds have some conversations. Have someone be Partner #1 and some else be Partner #2. Post your conversation and let’s see what kinds of things come up. Perhaps, we can come away with some ideas to make us all just a little bit less racist and further along the path to becoming an antiracist.
— By Rebecca Yalch, Edmonds