The matter of black lives

A few weeks ago I was playing Lego with my host family’s three year old daughter. She only had a few minutes before bath time so we were working feverishly to build a Lego castle for her kitties to stay in overnight (don’t ask). My arms criss-crossed over her’s as I reached for Lego pieces under her arms and she reached for pieces over mine, when suddenly she stopped working. She looked at me intently and asked “are you wood?” I said no while muffling sounds of laughter but her shoulders slumped down further and her head cocked to one side as she said, “but you’re brown, you’re brown all over!” She then looked down at her own arms and said, “And I’m white all over!” I then realized that after 2 weeks she had noticed a fundamental difference between us: I am black and she is White. I smiled and said yes and we continued to build the castle as she chatted excitedly about which kitty would go where. I pretended to be equally engrossed in the activity but I was reflecting on the innocence of that moment. I knew that one day she would understand that the differences between us were more than skin deep. That one day she would learn about racism and have to decide what position to take.

The recent police shootings have made me question my position, my role and my responsibility. I remember being livid when I first heard about what happened in Baton Rouge, I knew I wanted to make a difference and I was way past the point of believing that a hashtag or a famous quote would do that. That it is why I was so excited when I was offered the chance to work with Dorothy Elmore--an African American retired cop for my video project. Alex and I hope that Dorothy will be the focus of our project that is committed to encouraging more women and people of color to join the police force, and to make them consider how they can make a positive change from within the force. During our interview Dorothy spoke at length about the challenges she faced as a black woman in and out of the police force, noting that fear is one of the major causes of extreme use of violence by cops. We talked about many issues such as Black Lives Matter, the challenges of being a black mother and a cop, and the tension between her role in law enforcement and her involvement in social activism. At the end of our interview my final question was, “What do you think could be a solution to the problem?” She hesitated to give me one at first then said that the core problem is racism, that as long as it exists within our society it will be reflected in other organizations even in the police.

I must admit that my hopes for this project were dashed by her answer to that question, but that is only because what she said is a truth that I have been unwilling to face for a while. Racism undoubtedly exists in this country and it can be as innocent as the Academy Awards nominating only white people for excellence in the film industry, to the extremes of a policeman shooting an innocent black man at point blank range. I still believe in the potential of our project to make a difference no matter how small that difference may be, and that is because of a quote that I cling onto by Dr. Martin Luther King. I share this quote not to join the hordes of people who have taken to social media with famous quotes and hashtags, but to encourage those in pursuit of social change for black lives in spite of recent events, the quote states, “If you can’t fly run. If you can’t run walk, if you can’t walk crawl but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”