Our Lady of Perpetual Depression

A syllabus for Thanksgiving break

Last night after Leta completed her nightly bedtime reading, I pulled the covers back and to the side so that I could sit next to her legs, my own dangling off the side of the mattress.

“Leta, do you have any black kids in your class?” I asked her.

“I know that’s why we needed to watch what happened tonight,” she began, “but I don’t see people that way. We’re all the same—“

“Are there any black kids in your class?” I pressed.

“Mom, skin color doesn’t matter to me. I treat everyone the same.”

Her generosity of spirit is palpable, and everyone who knows Leta can feel it. It’s an energy she radiates. She has a special way of handling and befriending kids who are far different from her, kids who are far younger, even, a personality trait enhanced by weathering the daily blows of a demanding and dimpled younger sister who physically tugs at her every limb. My child is forgiving to a fault and comes homes often to ask how she can better mend the broken fences between dueling sets of friends where many times she has been the target of the adolescent vitriol.

Leta is a peacemaker.

Last night I sat there struggling with the duty I have to destroy that innocent notion of hers, a notion born of my ignorance and my privilege, the privilege shared by so many other well-intentioned but naive white parents who somehow think that not talking about race is in any way whatsoever going to help fix racism. We are, in fact, actively strengthening a system that continues to devalue and discard the lives of black people.

White people have to “see” it and fix it: me and you and even you, a white person who grew up in the slums of Nashville, managed to scrap and save and make a life for yourself and, nope, we never hear you complain. EVEN YOU. Leta and those determined enough in her generation will have to help us finish the work.

My generous child needs to see “black.” She needs to understand that those classmates of hers will go through life with a radically different set of experiences and fears that stem from the color of their skin. Yes, it’s a lovely notion that we are all the same, except we live in a country whose very foundation was instituted on the subjugation and continuing dehumanization of black people. She will never have to worry that the color of her skin will arouse suspicion. She will never have to worry that the color of her skin might get her harassed or, god fucking forbid, shot and killed and left to bleed and die in the middle of the street.

Last night I destroyed that innocence and began a lifelong conversation and study of race with my child.

Before you fire off an email to me or leave a comment about how you are so damn tired of everything being about race, so tired of black people blaming white people, so tired of being told that your hard work is not the very thing that is responsible for your success—you studied, you hustled and worked late shifts, you came from a family with no means and yet you have made a nice life for yourself and your family. No one in this discussion is trying to take that away from you.

First, from my friend Kristen:

White privilege isn’t about me individually. It’s not a personal attack. White privilege is a systemic cultural reality that I can either choose to ignore, or choose to acknowledge and attempt to change. It has nothing to do with my worth as a person or my own personal struggle.

Second, go now and read the book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Absolutely nothing in the last twenty years of my life has changed me more than the journeys in these pages, journeys that have gone unheard for far too long by white people like myself:

Over the course of six decades some six million black southerners left the land of their forefathers and fanned out across the country for an uncertain existence in nearly every other corner of America. The Great Migration would become a turning point in history. It would transform urban America and recast the social and political order of every city it touched. It would force the South to search its soul and finally to lay aside a feudal caste system.

Those six decades did not occur in the 19th century. This was a 20th century phenomenon. My mother and father were born and raised in the South during this time when black people were routinely maimed, hosed or killed while seeking basic human rights. The South not only turned its eye to these atrocities, it encouraged and rewarded them. What this book so masterfully illustrates is the system that was orchestrated and has persisted into 2014, a system of inequality that in no way refutes that you are a hard-working white person, but it will force you to take an uncomfortable look at how far ahead your starting line was set in comparison to your black counterpart:

Multiplied over generations, it would mean a wealth deficit between the races that would require a miracle windfall or near asceticism on the part of colored families if they were to have any chance of catching up or amassing anything of value. Otherwise the chasm would continue, as it did for blacks as a group even into the succeeding century. The layers of accumulated assets built up by the better-paid dominant caste, generation after generation, would factor into a wealth disparity of white Americans having an average net worth ten times that of black Americans by the turn of the twenty-first century dampening the economic prospects of the children and the grandchildren of both Jim Crow and the Great Migration before they were even born.

Three, go read the rest of these books and open your heart. Be generous. Stop getting defensive. Stop blaming. Stop believing that eye witnesses will lie while simultaneously clutching to the notion that law enforcement never will. Stop insisting that the judicial system is infallible. Stop criticizing the response of an oppressed group of people to their oppression.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The Fire Next Time

Invisible Man

The Souls of Black Folk

Notes of a Native Son

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race

A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror

My Bondage and My Freedom (Penguin Classics)

Race Matters

Four, remove the word “bootstrap” permanently from your vocabulary.

Many thanks for Kristen and Kelly for giving me the gift of the benefit of the doubt. You woke me up.

  • Gina

    2014/11/25 at 12:03 pm

    I bought The Invisible Man at Half Priced Books this past spring on recommendation of a friend. Your post just bumped it to the top of my “to read” stack. We sat with our 21 year old last night, along with two of his friends, and watched the press conference. The discussion that followed was eye opening and important.

  • Laila

    2014/11/25 at 12:09 pm

    Would love to add: Racism without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva , The White Racial Frame by Joe Feagin (actually everything by Joe Feagin) to your list.

    My son is the only Black male in his class, he’s the only Black kid in his friend group. But we talk about race. I talk about it with the mom’s of his friends. I have to. We have to.

  • Amy K

    2014/11/25 at 12:21 pm

    this is a great list! thanks for curating and sharing it — your thoughts are timely, and even if people don’t agree with all of your opinions, they should at least respect them. keep up the great work!

  • Julie

    2014/11/25 at 12:23 pm

    I admit that I am completely struck silent and I’m afraid to do anything about it. Coming from a predominately white, very republican, small town in Northern CA, it isn’t a surprise that most of the people on my FB friends list fit into that mold. I left that town when I was 18 and knew I would never fit in there politically or socially. I love my hometown, I love my friends who are still there and who still hold true to those values and thoughts. Why am I so afraid to say something “out loud” on facebook that shows that I think “white privilege” is something they should take an unbiased look at? Silence isn’t helpful. Why do I fear my own voice?

  • Jennifer

    2014/11/25 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you for your eloquence on this topic. And your bravery in raising it. You found some of the words I’ve been searching for.

  • mcw

    2014/11/25 at 12:30 pm

    Educating oneself and children on the subject of race is a great starting point for making changes in the world. I appreciate the book recommendations. I’d love to hear more about your conversation with Leta. Funny enough, even though my daughter is mixed race, when she was 4 I noticed that she had a distinct preference for blonde, blue-eyed characters over dark skinned ones in a book. I realized my lapse in not addressing it sooner. We starting talking more regularly about skin color and race after that. She’s now 6 and is starting to understand around racism. I am still learning how to teach this stuff without going beyond her developmental level.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2014/11/25 at 12:31 pm

    Because the institution of white privilege is terrifying. It has terrorized black people for generations and anyone who dare question it. It’s an old tyrannical guard meant to bully anyone that questions its power because it so desperately does not want to lose it.

  • lindsay

    2014/11/25 at 12:32 pm

    I’ve been feeling uneasy and restless about the decision all day. Thank you for your words, and for bringing to mind a great way to share my thoughts and feelings on something that so many people are so agressive about. I try my damndest to stay out of political and social conversations with family members, but sometimes you just can’t keep quiet. this seems to be one of those times.

  • Savannah Stewart

    2014/11/25 at 12:46 pm

    Thank you for this post. I am wrestling with how to talk to my son about this. His favorite person in the world is black (that’s what she wants to be called). He loves her with all his little being…he is 3. I realize that my son will never have to worry about the some of same things her sons worry about. He knows no color or race right now and smiles at all he meets, but the reality is, he needs to know that yes, we are all beautiful and yes, we must keep fighting so we are all equal.

  • Michelle

    2014/11/25 at 12:51 pm

    “She will never have to worry that the color of her skin will arouse suspicion. She will never have to worry that the color of her skin might get her harassed or, god fucking forbid, shot and killed and left to bleed and and die in the middle of the street.”

    There are areas in my city (Tampa, FL) that my Black friends have told me not to go or that I cannot accompany them to because of the color of my skin. My son’s high school is predominantly Black students, followed by Hispanic with Caucasian as the minority. He comes home almost daily hurt and angry from verbal and physical harassment. I don’t want him to hate people for their skin color. I know not all people are jerks and high school is terrible anyway. I’m hoping to help him (and myself) overcome fears that have come from personal acts of violence. I keep looking over these words and trying to re-phrase them so I do not seem racist… Instead I will be checking out your recommended books and sharing them with my son.

  • Guest

    2014/11/25 at 12:55 pm

    My boots have straps!

  • NS

    2014/11/25 at 1:12 pm

    Heather, I’m so, so grateful that you’re using your blog as a platform to address these issues. I am from Missouri, currently live in Missouri, and in my professional life work to educate people on issues of racial inequality (really all inequality). Over the past weeks I’ve seen White folks in positions of power in my city and state dismiss the oppression (and the pain caused by said oppression) that people of color feel each and every day. They speak about racial inequality as if it’s not their problem — as if only “the protestors” or Black folks have a responsibility to fix it. We
    ALL have a responsibility to fix the problem, especially those of us who are in positions of power. I just wanted to say thanks for bringing more attention to the issues. It’s not a topic many people feel safe talking about so I really appreciate you taking the risk to do something good. Thanks.

  • Lucy Cash

    2014/11/25 at 1:39 pm

    “Leon’s Story”. Over the course of multiple nights I read it aloud to my older son when he was nine. It’s a nonfiction, first person narrative told without embroidery, and its simplicity renders the horror of it undeniable. Those were hard discussions to have but absolutely essential. My son is 16 now and eyes wide open to the world his generation is inheriting.

  • Becky

    2014/11/25 at 1:46 pm

    I live in Saint Louis. My neighborhood was damaged in the riots last night. The whole city is suffering. Thank you for addressing it openly with your children and audience. Hopefully we can all live in a world as fair as Leta’s sees it on day.

  • Jennifer Bullis

    2014/11/25 at 1:47 pm

    Heather, I’ve been reading your blog for years, and am finally coming out of lurkdom to comment on this excellent post. Thank you for it–for the reading list and for your exhortation, “open your heart.” Yes.

    I’ve been thinking on this quote today, which came from one Colleen Lindsay on Twitter and which I ran across on Facebook: “Truest thing I’ve heard all night: ‘White privilege is the ability to be outraged by the #Ferguson decision, rather than terrified by it.'” If we open our hearts, as you urge, Heather, I think we will be able to progress from outrage, to sharing the terror, to taking action against it–as you are taking action by gently educating Leta. She is on her way to becoming a more skilled and effective peacemaker.

  • Karen

    2014/11/25 at 2:06 pm

    This is an important post and I’m grateful you took the time to research and write it. The piece from Kristen was especially eye-opening. Yet here’s where I got hung up: Just before you said to “stop assuming witnesses lie and law enforcement never will”, you claimed that Mike Brown was “shot and killed and left to bleed and die in the middle of the street” because of the color of his skin.

    Doesn’t that statement make the same types of assumptions? How is it possible to know this was entirely racially driven without drawing those same conclusions about the cop and the witnesses that corroborated his story?

  • Class Versus Sass

    2014/11/25 at 2:08 pm

    Most of me agrees with your daughter. People are not different based on the color of their skin. Will they experiences be different because of the color of their skin? Definitely. However their experiences will be different based on the way that misguided ignorant people and society treat them. The issue lies within society and culture not the fundamental statement that your daughter made. We should all be working to feel like her. However, this does not mean that she shouldn’t learn that these injustices exist.
    I am always reminded of MLK’s words that his dream was some day his children be judged by he content of their character and not the color of their skin. It isn’t your daughter that is the issue, she sees the world the way it should be.

  • From the Midwest

    2014/11/25 at 2:28 pm

    I’m tired of seeing all of bloggers say we white are the problem. We are racist. Bullshit I see everyone as an equal. Guess why. Everyone come from a different ethnic background. you choose who you want to be and how to behave. These persons rioting (not peaceful protesting) do not live in Ferguson) They burned down a community that was built on hard work and pulling up the proverbial boot straps to make it a good community.

  • KristenfromMA

    2014/11/25 at 2:50 pm

    If you didn’t write “we whites” I’d still have thought you were white.

  • Elizabeth B

    2014/11/25 at 2:54 pm

    I’m so glad you’re writing about this. I expected my Facebook feed to be nothing but talk about Ferguson last night, but there was actually not much said about it – except by my son’s girlfriend, who is half black. She had a LOT to say, and it’s exactly the kind of anger and frustration I had been expecting but didn’t see much of … and didn’t realize at first that it’s because most of the people on my Facebook friends list are white. We need more outrage from white people for things to change.

  • Jane

    2014/11/25 at 2:56 pm

    Heather, what a beautifully written post. When I watched what happened in Ferguson on the news at first I thought they were referring to a situation in the past. (I’m from NZ, not America.) That this is still even POSSIBLE in 2014, that the aftermath played out like it did is beyond wrong. You are a wonderful mama to have opened your own heart. Thank you.

  • Cynthia

    2014/11/25 at 3:00 pm

    Heather-Thank you for this. I appreciate that you took it to heart when the blogger over the summer said at some conference you attended that she need the voices of white mothers to speak up. I know I am over paraphrasing, but you get the point. Over the summer, I too decided that as an ally that I could no longer just make Facebook status updates about my anger and frustration about race relations in the US. As a white woman, I have decided I am coming out of the cloak of social media and I am going to start being present in person about being an ally. I will go to rallys. I will take risks. To be frank, I was always scared to make mistakes and just kept my mouth shut. I knew my heart was in the right place, but what if I fucked up in how I communicated it. My own fear kept me silent. I challenge everyone to step out and be an ally. Outside of the books you suggested, I would encourage people to see the movie “Dear White People,” “Fruitvale Station,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Musically I would recommend Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution will Not be Televised,” and Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.”

  • California mom

    2014/11/25 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you so much. As a fellow privileged white woman I am literally sick to my stomach from reading posts comments etc. that essentially claim there is no racism in this country, how dare you raise that, YOU must be racist for bringing it up. Just sick. It is horrifying that in 2014 it’s still not safe to be a black kid. And all those comments suggesting that if Michael just obeyed authority everything would be ok are missing the point.

  • a sad parent

    2014/11/25 at 3:24 pm

    Po Bronson has a great chapter in his book Nurtureshock in which he addresses how we need to discuss race and economic differences with children. We assume that just because our kids may grow up in a diverse society that we don’t have to discuss differences. Exposure isn’t enough to guarantee a child won’t grow up to be racist and intolerant. We have to talk about the differences and how it impacts each of us.

  • Anonymous

    2014/11/25 at 3:26 pm

    I’ve been struggling with this all day. I have a lot of confusing thoughts and feelings, even to myself.

    I am white. I grew up in Utah but now live in the Houston area. I think much like Leta in that I don’t see people as colors. However, I’m not ignorant, I know color plays a role in society, and I do understand that white privilege exists. I think that Michael Brown’s death is a tragedy. Would he have been shot if he was white? Probably not, and THAT IS NOT RIGHT.

    However, the hard part for me is that I am an attorney, and I get berated if I even opine on the process of what happened, because I “don’t believe white privilege exists” or “I’m racist” or “I just don’t understand.” (I will say that people are right that I probably don’t fully understand because I’ve never been in their shoes.) I’m not trying to make excuses for Officer Wilson. What he did is awful, and I think our society needs to use this event — as well as the shootings of Treyvon Martin and Tamir Rice– to make change. But how can we change if we can’t have civilized discussions about our system? I KNOW our system is not infallible. I know it is not perfect. I know it could use improvement. But, right now it is all we have. Perhaps a guilty man got off today. I didn’t hear the evidence, I don’t know what happened in that grand jury room (I have not read the transcripts though they are available). But in my heart of hearts, I believe the saying that “It is better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be convicted.” (I may not be exact on that quote). But if I try to say that I am immediately labeled racist and blinded by white privilege. Don’t I get to have an opinion without feeling attacked and judged for it? People hear me say that we have a system and we have to follow it, and they immediately think I don’t know it has problems. I know it does, but I work in our judicial system every day, and I thank God every day that we have the system we have instead of handling things the way other countries handle them. So let’s use this to make some changes, but let’s not immediately brand a white person with an opinion on what happened a racist.

  • Magatha

    2014/11/25 at 4:31 pm

    I agree: I am grateful for our judicial system. But built into the system is the concept of judicial discretion. There has to be room for judicial discretion because not every situation is exactly the same.

    This is why I have to question and wonder about why the prosecutor in this case made the decision to put everything onto the grand jury. I think the better way would have been to file an information and let a judge decide whether there was reasonable cause to prosecute. You may disagree with me, and as an attorney, you probably have a much more solid basis for your opinion.

    But if we disagreed, it would just be a disagreement. I would never in a million years berate you for being a racist just because we disagreed about the use of judicial discretion in a particular case. There is room for discussion, and some of that discussion may involve racial connotations as we sort things out, but if it’s a good faith discussion, surely we will all benefit. (That said, if anyone has jumped on you for presuming the innocence of an accused person – a presumption that is essential in our judicial system – then that person is not arguing in good faith. They are trolling you.)

  • AP

    2014/11/25 at 4:31 pm

    I agree with you and thank you for creating a discussion about this, especially with Leta. While it’s nice to try to think like Leta and “not see color,” I feel like that phrase implies that color is a bad thing and shouldn’t be seen. We should absolutely see color because it is part of a person’s identity and their experience in the world. My womanhood defines my experience, and I wouldn’t want people to treat me as a gender- or sexless object just to make themselves feel comfortable. Thanks again!

  • Norma Jean Barrett

    2014/11/25 at 4:37 pm

    I don’t understand the statement about removing “bootstrap”?

  • paigeworthy

    2014/11/25 at 5:10 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Joan

    2014/11/25 at 5:51 pm

    I believe in the grand jury system in place in our country. I think these men and women who took their notice to serve on this panel and those have served on others should always be commended and never condemned (not that you were doing that). I was devastated by the death of such a young man, however I had faith in our judicial system; whatever the outcome, that it would be investigated and presented fully. I continue to have the same faith in our judicial system. I am heartbroken for the families involved. I truly believe that 12 men and women voted unanimously on all counts, and that we must trust our judicial system. I know that my feelings make me unpopular in many circles, however I truly feel that the integrity of our system should be valued after this case was decided.

  • dramagal

    2014/11/25 at 5:57 pm

    If you are looking for books for Leta as you begin this conversation, I suggest “Brown Girl Dreaming” (and good lord, the “joke” author Jackie Woodsen was subjected to in the moment after her book won the National Book Award,) Deborah Wiles’ “Revolution” and “40 Acres and Maybe a Mule.” Oh, and “The Lions of Little Rock.” And “Crow.”

  • mochamomma

    2014/11/25 at 6:01 pm

    Everything on this list is so good. When I started teaching many years ago I read Lisa Delpit’s “Other People’s Children” and it started something in me that hasn’t been diminished. I just appreciate the hell out of you, Heather. Using your platform like this is incredible.

  • Magatha

    2014/11/25 at 6:05 pm

    “….you claimed that Mike Brown was “shot and killed and left to bleed and
    die in the middle of the street” because of the color of his skin. Doesn’t that statement make the same types of assumptions?….”

    I think this misstates Heather’s point a little. I think we can agree that “Mike Brown was shot and killed and left to bleed and die in the middle of the street”. I mean, we saw most of those events on TV. What Heather was saying is that as the parent of a white child, she has far less reason to be fearful that her daughter will face the type of racial profiling that could lead to being shot by a police officer while being investigated for possible criminal activity.

    As a girl and woman, Heather’s daughter – all of our daughters – face different inherent public vulnerabilities, but this possible violent outcome is less likely.

  • MallyMon

    2014/11/25 at 6:33 pm

    I’m a white British woman living in the UK. I can’t believe that people are still treated this way in this day and age because of race and/or colour. One of my best friends’ daughters is a young white lesbian, married to a mixed race woman. My friend has told me that she has some worries about the fact that the twin boys they are expecting next month are going be more black than white. And that they will be born into a mixed race family. Amidst all the joy of expecting babies, this is a real fear. The fear that her grandchildren will be treated less favourably and even perhaps violently because of the colour of their skin. That, and the fact that their mothers are gay. It’s heartbreaking. My main question is always why is it anyone else’s business? And the next question : why does skin colour affect anything? The great tragedy is that you are preaching to the converted. Most of us here are intelligent and aware. It’s people like those on the Missouri Grand Jury (black people outnumbered, I note) who need educating. I don’t think Leta will need many, if any, books on this subject, she’s already empathic and smart – talking about it sensibly within the family is the best thing. My daughter had three black friends (from the same family) when she was small and they were the only black kids in our area. Nobody ever treated them or their parents any differently. We as a family talked about the difference but never made an issue of it. People are people. I lived in South Africa for three years in the 1970s but it was terrible. Black people were truly second class citizens and even now that apartheid has been outlawed there, it is still no better. In fact, it’s worse. The oppression that existed for many many years cannot be wiped out overnight. It is really so sad that there is to be no justice for Michael Brown. In fact, it’s a travesty.

  • Garrett

    2014/11/25 at 6:53 pm

    May I suggest a book? (I’ve been reading this blog for, oh man, ten years now? And this is the first time I’ve commented.) Nell Irvin Painter’s “The History of White People” is a marvelous look at the arbitrary construction of whiteness, an examination that marks race as an arbitrary category without denying the real, physical experiences that people marked by these categories (i.e. all of us) live with.

  • Ele

    2014/11/25 at 7:06 pm

    The whole blog post is a response to this. People aren’t equal when they begin from a place that is so far behind another group of people that it is almost impossible to comprehend. I am from Australia, I am just learning that our Aboriginal people worked and worked for little or no money (there wasn’t legal slavery here) to build the businesses that then made white families rich. Now they are treated like shit – although not shot in the street – there are not so many guns here. See any parallells?

  • California mom

    2014/11/25 at 7:46 pm

    Well, I happen to be a prosecutor and even I don’t have that same blind faith in our justice system. The grand jury proceedings were very unusual in that defense evidence was allowed in. That just doesn’t happen. And you can tell from the transcripts that the prosecutors were not vigorously pleading their case. They were questioning the credibility if their own witnesses. You just don’t to that, even if you have concerns.

  • kmpinkel

    2014/11/25 at 8:24 pm

    I have an acquaintance who started playing professional jazz at the age of 15, was granted a college scholarship for his abilities, has lead his own quartet for the last 8 years, is currently in the war torn middle east as a musical ambassador for the US government and this is what he posted today: “I’m not surprised, but deeply saddened by the ruling. This is just another reminder that I am still a second class citizen in most parts of this country”

    A second class citizen…..with all of his accomplishments, this is the story that goes through his head and so many others. That is what is at the heart of the problem. I hope to be able to help figure out how to help change their stories. No one should ever feel that way. Thanks for posting.

  • hollhol

    2014/11/25 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks for continuing the conversation, Heather. Kristen’s words are so powerful. Also highly recommended: The Short & Tragic Life of Robert Peace.

  • California mom

    2014/11/25 at 8:42 pm

    White people sometimes criticize blacks for/diminish the effects of blacks’ position in society (with all of the inherent/legacy disadvantages) by either telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps or claiming that they (the white person) did. Meaning anyone can start from nothing and make something of themselves if they only work hard enough. Not acknowledging of course the privilege/head start all of us whites have.

    My father escaped communism in Eastern Europe and came here with nothing in the 1950s. But neither he nor I would ever suggest that he didn’t still have privileges as a white man and that blacks would have the same opportunities he had.

  • KDW

    2014/11/25 at 10:28 pm

    I am a white woman who is holding in my hands, right now- as I just put it down to go on the web, ‘The New Jim Crow’. Excellent, excellent book. The history of racism in our governmental institutions and culture is painful, and what Michelle Alexander’s book reveals is that The War on Drugs has taken so many of the citizens’ (BLACK and WHITE) rights away with a horrible skew to a prison system that is primarily filled with persons of color. Read it, along with the other books as I intend. I’m currently watching ‘Jazz’ (Ken Burns’ take on the history of jazz) so I guess I’m immersed in a bit of blackness at this time. (PS- NOT watching ‘news’ about Ferguson)

  • Michael Mathews

    2014/11/26 at 1:10 am

    Grand jury votes do not have to be unanimous. Someone at the press conference asked about that, but the prosecutor went on about how votes were secret and never did say what number of yes votes is required in St. Louis County.

    I thought this was very unusually handled. I have been a grand juror. The typical scenario is that the prosecutor (district attorney) will lay out a case and call in select witnesses to show that there is probable cause. This is a much weaker standard than reasonable doubt. In my state, most counties have a grand jury size of 19, with 12 votes required to return an indictment. It is not that hard to achieve.

    Here, the prosecutor’s office laid out all sorts of conflicting statements and evidence. I think the grand jury started getting confused about the difference between guilty beyond a reasonable doubt vs. probable cause that a crime may have been committed by the accused.

    I would have liked this to go to a full trial, although if the verdict were eventually returned as not guilty, I’m sure the tensions we are seeing would have erupted then instead of now.

  • Michael Mathews

    2014/11/26 at 1:14 am

    It’s hard to listen to people I care about make the same tired arguments about how the looters aren’t helping their cause, how Michael Brown had robbed a store so he was a bad guy, etc.They have never lived in fear of being stopped just for walking down a sidewalk. Even if they do have an encounter with police, it is very unlikely to escalate into something life threatening.

  • Kelli

    2014/11/26 at 4:22 am

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am white and feel so overwhelmingly sad at the language we use to discuss this situation. These posts give me courage. And they give me words.

  • Norma Jean Barrett

    2014/11/26 at 7:18 am

    Thanks! I really appreciate the explanation.

  • Beth Rich

    2014/11/26 at 7:23 am

    “Don’t I get to have an opinion without feeling attacked and judged for it?” In my opinion, that is the heart of the problem. There is no attitude of respectful discourse in our country today. Learned debate is a fun game played in high school. Anyone who disagrees or even asks a question counter to whatever issue is being discussed is immediately labeled and bullied into not speaking at all, or pushed into a defensive position that they really don’t feel. It breaks my heart that we talk about embracing diversity and yet the reality is we have become intolerant of difference, unable to see and understand just how stuck and divided we have become.

  • Amanda

    2014/11/26 at 7:34 am

    Thank you so much for posting this. This is the work I try to do every day with white teachers who teach predominantly black and Latino students, to help them see the reality their students face daily, and it can be hard and draining but it is so necessary. We can’t let the teaching and consciousness raising of white people fall on the shoulders of people of color. Thanks for using your blog as a platform to reach people who may not be exposed to these stories and important texts. I like you have been lucky enough to have friends and jobs that push me and teach me. Hopefully this gives that to others!

  • Amanda

    2014/11/26 at 7:42 am

    I second that book recommendation. So helpful in helping see the problems with “white liberalism” and race in education.

  • Elisabeth M

    2014/11/26 at 9:41 am

    Thank you so much for posting this. I appreciate your willingness to put your discomfort on display. We all need to stop turning a blind eye and confront these lingering unjust truths head on. I hope I’m able to do so with as much grace as you always display.

  • Ben

    2014/11/26 at 9:43 am

    Heather, this is a great list. I’d add the following titles, too:

    Randall Kennedy, “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word”
    Derrick Bell, “Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism”
    bell hooks, “Black Looks: Race and Representation”
    William C. Rhoden, “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete”

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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