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Anti-Racist Checklist

Full lips, round hips, black skin is where I begin, but not where I end. – Black woman.

It’s July 2020 and suddenly America has awakened to a realization that Black lives should matter in these United States. Operative word should. Just a few days shy of July 4th and Breonna Taylor’s family along with so many other Black families are aghast with performative measures of alliance and yet no substantive change. No arrests for the police officers who shot her while sleeping. SLEEPING. The message being communicated to Black people hasn’t changed; we say that we are with you, but our systems remain the same. Our systems don’t support your thriving and barely support surviving. Enter the work of anti-racism.

It is unlikely that anyone can scroll on social media or watch mainstream news in recent weeks without some story or post discussing systemic racism or what it means to be anti-racist. I’m encouraged to see the proliferation of Black voices and the elevation of our story. I am also noticing some fatigue from White allies – we’ve only been having this global conversation on race for 1 month. 30 days. That’s it. When fatigued, it is likely that we will reach for the easiest possible solution and to some that looks like an anti-racism checklist. An insensitive move, in jest, to ask your Black friends to tell you a list of things you should do to be considered anti-racist.

This ask has come as a direct and indirect proposition. It may sound like “I wish I just knew exactly what to do” or “I just want to show you that I am anti-racist.” A list sure would make things easier. To those beckoning for a list, I agree, that is way easier. However, EVERYONE is more complex than a list of “to dos.” Your most valued relationship can not be deduced to a list. When I think of an anti-racist list, I simply hear another request for comfort. Another request for me to acquiesce to your discomfort. I will not do that anymore. For centuries, the standard for Blacks has been unreasonably high (perfection before dignifying) and the standard for Whites shamefully low (accommodation of comfort).

Anti-racism does not ask me to shrink my voice, presence, or pride (in my Blackness) for your comfort.

Precious Jones

I’m not asking your forgiveness to live in my fullness. For so long I’ve chosen to shrink parts of my ethnic identity to make White people, especially White Christians, comfortable. Always learning more about their culture. Always accommodating comfort. Executing survival tactics such as code switching to climb the corporate ladder and regrettably leaving parts of me buried below as I moved up. For decades there was very little love for this brown skin girl. I’m realizing that choosing between my ethnicity and Christianity is a false choice. I’m certain that Christ wants me to live fully Black AND fully redeemed; not some reduced version of myself. Else, why would God create humanity and allow our eyes to differentiate color variants if there was no intention for us to see the beauty in difference? At what point did beauty become a point of division? Don’t answer that. I repeat. Don’t answer.

Image from Facebook

Brene Brown noted, “We either own our stories or they own us. Only when we have the courage to own our history are we able to write a brave new ending to our story.” I own my history of placating Whites at work, in friendship, and at church to make them comfortable with me. I also own that I previously believed that their comfort was more important than my being. BUT NOW (say it with me church)…I’m writing a very different ending for myself. It looks like loving myself enough to move forward with those who pursue justice in word and deed. Who continue to do the personal work of becoming anti-racist. It looks like loving myself enough to end fruitless conversations that originate with interrogation instead of empathy. It looks like CHOOSING. I now realize that as a Black Christian I don’t have to accept every invitation into a conversation on race. This makes me no less Christian. This makes me healthier. This makes me wise. This allows me to endure.

If there ever was an anti-racist checklist, it would be loaded with nuance and complexity; joy and pain. Not a lot of conditional statements, but real expectations. It might look something like this.

Anti-Racism Checklist

  1. Hard work
  2. Failure
  3. Love
  4. Ambiguity
  5. Frustration
  6. Anger
  7. Disappointment
  8. Endurance
  9. Victories (small & large)
  10. Lament

Anti-racism is spelled M-A-R-A-T-H-O-N. It is not spelled p-o-p-u-l-a-r-i-t-y. Neither is it spelled p-r-a-i-s-e. To the adults in the room, we are not in high school anymore. Therefore, our personal metric should not be “cool by association.” No longer permissible to rest on the laurels of having Black friend(s) or coworkers. Stop searching for a list of things to “check off” to arrive at the status of anti-racist. A list of things to “prove” your work is not primarily performative. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to prove who you are. That’s wasted energy. Marathons are about conservation and bursts of energy at appropriate times.

You know who you are and where you are. If you do not know who you are, honestly interrogate your soul. If you are not where you would like to be, then put in work. And keep working. But don’t ask me for a list. If you do, I will reference the one above. It is the only list I have that counts in this work. A list that allows us to examine our privilege, power, and prejudice.

White people, if your relationships feel particularly strained with your Black friends or coworkers right now, remember, “ambiguity and disappointment” are on the list. If you feel exhausted, remember, “hard work and endurance” are on the list. If you feel like, you are just not getting things right, remember, “failure and frustration” are on the list. Black people, if you are tired of empty apologies and excessive validation, remember, “anger and lament” are on the list.

If you have resolved to keep putting in work, then others will benefit from these acts of love and we’ll share in mutual victories. But, if your goal is simply to check off an act of love or a moment of endurance, you’ve missed it. Ball the list up. Throw it away and ask the question, “Do I really want to become an anti-racist or is this all for show?”

“Search me, O God and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts.” – Psalm 139:23

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Lost that Loving Feeling

For the past ten days, each breath I’ve taken has felt triumphant and treacherous. In the same breath I would inhale hope and exhale despair. With as many breaths taken, I somehow still felt as if I was suffocating. A lingering heaviness remains in my chest, yet I persist in taking long, deep breaths of hope to survive. This is the only way I know to describe the unavoidable collision which occurs when the topic of racial injustice becomes a national (dare I say global) conversation and you live, work, or worship in a space where “White Gaze” is dominant or ever present.

My time in Memphis has been unique, particularly in the new relationships developed; majority of my deeper friendships in this city are with white women. I am thankful for these women, but pandemics and protests have revealed that their love for me had better not be based on a feeling or we’re in trouble. Feelings alone won’t sustain a friendship.

Unity feels good, when all appears good with the world. However, when people are protesting racial injustice in all 50 states and social media profiles are repeatedly highlighting the stories of #GeorgeFloyd and #BreonnaTaylor, those high and lofty feelings dissipate and we are left with the ugly truth of our bias. Sometimes our biases are stronger than our belief. Our belief in Christ and love of neighbor is superseded by an eye of interrogation of the Black life. “What did he/she do to deserve this?” Superseded by ideals of white savior-ism and notions of rescuing black friends from racism. “I don’t know what to do…just wish I could make all of this go away…” Superseded by complicit silence for fear of not “knowing what to say” or “having the right words.” “I really didn’t want to say the wrong thing to you as a white person, so I didn’t say anything…” Superseded by a strange premise that demonstration of love or support to a Black friend is different than that of a white friend. “You’re black…and I’m white…and…I just don’t know how to love you in this time.”

The myriad of responses from many of my white friends during the most recent unrest caused me such sadness. I then began to ponder, when I have nothing to give emotionally, intellectually, socially, spiritually, (fill in the blank), will these friends still demonstrate love towards me? When we’ve lost that loving feeling, how then will Christ be glorified? When tears and pain are my constant diet and the warmness of presence you’ve known of me seems to be no more. When my enrage of of the devaluing of black lives is communicated will you see me as just another angry black woman? When I can no longer help you bear your burden, will you rise to help me carry mine? When I present you with the depth of my pain, will you rise and meet me in that space or will you retreat? When my actions don’t “feel” loving, will you still love me?

I have one prayer during this time for my white friends and it is that you would rise. RISE to meet your black friends in this fight for justice. We are tired of hearing you say you just didn’t know what to say. Say something and be vulnerable in your humanity. We are tired of hearing you say it’s not your personality to say something. Courage is not about personality (ask this introvert). We are tired of hearing you say it’s hard. We know. YOU can do hard things. We are tired of you saying you just don’t know what to do. Educate yourself first. Listen (to Black people) second. Lastly act. We are tired of your excuses. It’s time to make moves. Join the movement.

Recently, so many of my white friends, whom I love, have retreated if they weren’t praised for their actions (posts on social media, watching a documentary on race, etc.); if the pain was too great; if I didn’t initiate dialogue. After years of these types of conversations and consistent complicity from white christians from city to city, I almost decided to taper my expectations of white people during these times. I’ve decide not to do that. I will continue to push my white friends to live out the shared values of faith espoused.

When our belief in Christ and love of neighbor is stronger than our bias, we will rise and not retreat. Our deep conviction to see the gospel manifest will drive our action in public and in private. Below, a dear friend of mine articulates what this exhaustion might look like.

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This week was rough. I am near depletion. Like many people of color, yes we take on more emotionally, mentally, and physically during times like these, BUT all of that is just additional weight added to our nearly broken backs and spirits. ⁣ ⁣ Each day we navigate through white dominant spaces, leading small and sometimes individual protests against microaggressions, micro-assaults, micro-insults, covert and overt racism, all while trying to work at the office, shop at the grocery store, even worship at church. It’s the invisible and internal war we fight and the lack of our visible wounds tells the world that we are okay. We are not okay. ⁣ ⁣ I’ve had to listen to my 11 year old nephew express his fear about being shot, while trying to finish up reports for work. I’ve had to lead my team through my tears showing up to meetings anyway. I’ve cried in class Zoom meetings-tear drops sprinkling the pages of my notebook filled with statistics equations that look like a new language because right now, my mind just cannot compute. ⁣ ⁣ Many of you who are new to this fight have fresh energy, and rested spirits and are itching to get your hands and feet moving. Good. Use that energy, and that privilege wisely.⁣ ⁣ And as you join us, be very aware of our exhaustion. This is why we don’t want to continue to educate. This is why we don’t get as excited as you do. This is why your new interest in this fight is not met with celebration. You are stepping into work that we have been drowning in for years. And after the trend fades, this will still be our work. Always. ⁣ ⁣ Our souls are hoarse from the screaming on the inside. This is where our words have been buried and trapped after years of no one listening. You finally hearing us now does not cause us to exhale with relief and joy. Instead it’s a somber sigh of the sobering reality that it took this long.⁣ ⁣ I wish pain on no one, but if you are signing your contract of allyship and are serious about shouldering these burdens, then I do wish for you to get closer to experiencing this level of exhaustion. You are not signing up to get a badge. You are signing up to get the bruises. ⁣ ⁣ #dothework

A post shared by Courtney (@brwnplace) on

@brwnplace INSTAGRAM

White christian friends, I am hopeful that your courage to stand for justice is a reflection of your deeper conviction (as a follower of Christ), not your desire for my validation as your Black friend. Some days I won’t be able to validate you because I am literally trying to catch my breath in this marathon of justice. Ask yourself – when the pressure increases (and it will), will you stop standing with me when I stop validating you? Only you can answer that.

I don’t know what love feels like to you, but I do know what it looks like to me.  It looks like rising; a progressive upward movement towards the goal of justice.  Don’t run away from your Black friends when they are in pain.  That doesn’t look like love. Don’t ignore or try to escape from their pain. That doesn’t look like love. Don’t settle for inactivity in their pain. That doesn’t look like love. Be present. Be active. Be purposeful. The average number of breaths per day is 23, 040. Imagine exhaling despair that many times per day. It’s exhausting. I am are tired, but I won’t quit demonstrating my love for the marginalized. I hope you don’t either. Let’s do work.

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When privilege speaks

WE ARE HERE AGAIN. Another #unarmed Black man murdered under the guise of a citizen’s arrest. #AhmaudArbery and #SeanReed are the latest trending hashtags attempting to shine light on injustice. This time my anger feels different. I’m enraged. Maybe it’s because we’re here again. It’s more likely because I know that my voice is not enough. My pain will linger; longer than I want. Seventy-four days after Ahmaud’s murder, the two white men were arrested. Seventy-four. However, when [white] privilege spoke, with 36 hours of public outcry, the process of justice was initiated. Thirty six hours vs. seventy four days. Sinking in… A deeper sense of sadness is ever present as I also realize that I am not as free as I once believed. This makes me jealous of the freedom that [white] privilege provides.

silence is harmful

When privilege is silent, unjust systems reflect sizeable inequities and marginalized people live with the pain. The Black people of Brunswick, GA were speaking about this injustice immediately and yet no arrests were made. Privilege protected. Privilege remained silent. The passivity of leaders who embolden white supremacy and the oppression of the marginalized has sickened me once again. It’s sickening because America still clearly hears a predominant voice before all others; that of the white American.

I’m learning that many people of privilege are afraid that their words may fail them in times like these so they fail to speak, call, text, or listen. They fail us. Once again privilege exhalts itself rather than those on the margins. It chooses comfort. Once again white fragility wins. Once again I (and other people of color) are expected to single handedly bear the burden of racial injustice and love an America that repeatedly ignores the implications of its sin. America has not love Black people well. America has not loved people of color well.

A new lament has surfaced in addition to black bodies being devalued – the power privilege is grossly underestimated. When people of privilege in every sector and class joined their voices with those on the margins chanting “I #RunWithMaud,” things changed. If you love me. If you love God. If you love your neighbor. Pull up. Stop making excuses for standing with the other. Now is the time to use your voice in a public manner. Let your privilege shine in a way that brings glory to God, elevates the voice/stories of people of color, and fights for equitable systems. Bree Newsome and James Tyson project a model of what it looks like for white allies to allow their lament to move them to action. Bree Newsome was not alone the day she scaled a pole and took the Confederate flag down in an act of protest following the massacre of the Charleston 9. James Tyson, a white activist, was literally her foundation of support to help her begin her climb. They were both arrested that day. As my friend’s husband, Nii Ato, processed his grief regarding #ahmaudarbery, he stated that we don’t just need allies at this time…we need accomplices. I couldn’t agree more. Ask yourself, what skin do you have in the game? As a Black woman, my skin color forces me into the game whether fatigued, injured, or down right helpless. I could use your help. Truth is, America has never really listened to the Black voice alone.

“Black America needs to see that white people are willing to step up and put some skin in the game.”

James Tyson, Charlotteobserver.com

longing for freedom

I’m grateful that so many of my white friends and others of privilege responded so swiftly and publicly to Ahmaud’s murder. If I’m honest, I have been wondering why. Was this bandwagon behavior or “hashtag activism”? Have my friends changed their perspective due to proximity to the poor? Have their friendships changed and become more diverse? Did this experience produce a different level of empathy because #neighborhoodsowhite? I know how much my friends value running and the freedom it provides. I’m jealous of the freedom with which my white friends are able to go for a run or a walk without worry. I’ve never felt that free. I’m always worried when I walk or go for a bike ride alone. Always. I’m jealous that they don’t know what it’s like to experience to have someone view your physical body as a threat. As criminal.

I imagine white people could envision themselves “running” in the Brunswick neighborhood just as Ahmaud was running. I imagine they could empathize with the initial feeling of joy and ease Ahmaud had they day as he began his run. I imagine that for the first time, they could put themselves in the unarmed victim’s shoes. This Black man was “just running.” He was not in a Black neighborhood. He was not selling cigarretes. He was doing something that people of privilege do. There were less calls for Ahmaud to justify his humanity. For the first time, the hashtag is one of solidarity. I.run.WITH.Ahmaud. It is not just his name. What a powerful lesson empathy teaches here. Empathy makes us incapable of apathy and illuminates our humanity. When we can see ourselves, we can see the other. It’s been said several times on social media that authorities only responded because “we” saw the video. The public has seen many videos of unarmed Black people being shot and they didn’t speak out. I believe differently.

Privilege didn’t speak out because it saw the video. It spoke out because it could see itself in the video. #RunWithMaud

Precious Jones

I hope the Black community gains more accomplices to justice than allies. More people willing to pray AND act. Friends of [white] privilege, I dare you to live truly unafraid because some of us will never be able to do so. America still listens and responds to you.

May our lament leave us with bruised knees and lift us up from that position into courtrooms, classrooms, and boardrooms where we use our voices to cry out.

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Invisible Scars

It is the third quarter of the school year and I am scarred. I look the same on the outside. What has happened to my soul is undetectable to the human eye, but I AM SCARRED. As a proud Black woman from the south, I have traditionally looked for scars on the exterior of my body; perhaps they would show up in physical form. This time they have mostly been internal. My thoughts race with “what if” scenarios that spiral out of control. What if another child is shot? Can my soul bear that news? What if another parent has to bury their child? What if I have additional sleepless nights with recurring sound clips of grief deeply laden within a parents voice. What if…

A few weeks ago, I learned that a 9 year old student at our school had been shot while playing outside. He did not survive. He was just playing with his siblings and family. It was nearly 6 o’clock in the evening and the sun had just gone down less than thirty minutes prior. Earlier in the school year, a 7 year old student who attends our school was hit by gun fire when someone shot into their home. In both cases, I have older siblings of each student in my 5th grade class.

As my students and I spent time trying to process our feelings through writing, drawings, and tears, I was unprepared to hear of how many additional stories of gun related trauma they had encountered. For the past three weeks, my soul has been overwhelmed with grief. I enter the school building and tears have flooded my eyes. I have no regret with the choice I have made to teach in this community. It is one of my greatest honors, however, I wasn’t prepared for this type of loss. I wasn’t prepared for the shattering of my soul as I walked through the hallways thinking about what my student would experience when she returns knowing these are the same hallways her brother often walked down. As a person who likes to have answers. I have none. I have been giving hugs. Lots of them. I have been honestly sharing with my students and other teachers how this grief has impacted me. I have also decided to seek professional help. I am looking for a Black therapist in my area who can help me process.

There are times when our souls are enlarged through suffering. Supernaturally or divinely, we are able to experience or relate to God and others in a new way through suffering. At this time, my soul doesn’t feel enlarged through suffering. I just feel lost. I’m teaching, but I feel deep sadness daily. Sad that a little black boy was shot down in the midst of black joy. Sad that my students expressed that they don’t feel safe in their community. Sad that the siblings of this student have experienced such loss so early in life. Sad that I can only support students in limited ways. Sad that our western society cries out that we must continue to educate our children in the midst of tragedy. Just keep teaching. I am sad that we are sending them a message far too early in life that when your heart aches, when loss grips you, when depression overtakes you; don’t lament, just work. Don’t cry; just work. Don’t slow down; just work.

This sudden loss triggered the trauma I experienced as a sixteen year old when I received the news that my dad had passed away. I remember how helpless I felt returning to school the next day. Yep, I went right back to school. It was one of the safest places I knew and it brought me great joy. I remember being afraid to share with friends or teachers that my dad was dead. I remember how much relief it brought me to have a teacher point to a name in the obituary and ask…”Was this your father?” I was relieved that someone else knew and cared. Honestly, what teacher reads the daily obituary looking for student names? That teacher understood the experiences of my neighborhood and the trauma my classmates and I encountered. I remember simply answering “yes” and not having the resolve to say much more.

As a teacher working in a similar neighborhood as that of my childhood, I now realize that the invisible scars from my youth in addition to those incurred this year can do immeasurable damage to my mental and physical health if I am not honest with myself. If I don’t seek help. If I don’t take time to grieve. I’m doing that ya’ll. I’m taking mental health days. I’m slowing down. Taking the deep breaths. Increasing my gratitude. Loving those around me. Loving myself. Asking God for insight/wisdom each day in the classroom. My greatest partnership is with the Holy Spirit as I teach. I know I am not in the classroom alone and lately, God’s presence has been palpable and I’ve needed that. I am so grateful for friends that have stopped by my classroom to give me the best hugs; no words, just a warm embrace reminding me that I am cared for. Grateful for friends and family who have called to hear my voice and ask me if I am okay. Grateful for friends who have encouraged me to take the mental health day(s) necessary to care for my soul. Grateful for friends who have brought me freshly baked cookies and sweet notes that lift my spirit and my energy. You all should know, that although my head is not fully lifted and days are still cloudy, your acts of kindness and care have sustained me.

I wanted to write this particular blog to encourage my friends who work in industries of service (social work, health, education, etc.) to be just as vigilant about your mental health as some of you are about your physical health. They are inextricably linked. And lastly, because this is Black History Month and we (black people) have a history of falsely believing that we can carry EVERY burden and NEVER ask for help, this post is for you. Friends, take care of yourself. Take care of your souls. Don’t carry burdens that were not yours to carry alone. Don’t let your invisible scars manifest as physical scars. Both are painful. Let’s work to minimize our scars.

After you read this post, I don’t want your pity or praise, just your prayers and presence. Just your commitment to take care of yourself before you try to take care of others. I have chosen to teach in a community that experiences high trauma and some tragedy. It is still one of my greatest joys.

New Hope

Money can’t buy you love, but it can buy you justice. This position is not one for arguing – today’s contention is how to ignite hope in a community that has seen it’s dream of equality shot down decade after decade. Not false hope. Not pipe dreams. So far, this is the type of hope that generations of Black Americans have been given; false premises of being seen, heard, and valued. Unfortunately this view also permeates classrooms. Dreams devoid of hope vanish into thin air leaving it more difficult to breathe for all of us. Gasping for a hope that seems to evade.

I was unprepared for the reckoning my heart would face when I watched the movie Just Mercy. I read the book a few years ago and was wrecked by Bryan Stevenson’s compelling proposition to be proximate to the poor if you want to see change (in yourself and larger systems). I made moves. Became proximate. But let me tell you, when this book was brought to life on the screen, I could only see two things; black men in my family and the black boys in my classroom. I was unable to shake the reality of how so many of their dreams vanish into thin air early. Historically, the criminal justice system presumes guilt before trial and the classroom deems incompetent before demonstrating capability. As I wept in that theater over and over again at real lives who were deemed to have zero meaning, I asked myself about the power of hope to fuel justice.

Hopelessness is the end of justice. – Bryan Stevenson

This movie reminded me of the power of knowing you have someone in your corner fighting for you. The power of knowing that someone believes your life has value. The power of knowing that you aren’t the only one who hasn’t given up hope. The power of knowing what it feels like to receive mercy. The power of proximity to drive empathy-fueled action.

I have chosen the classroom as a place to restore hope. It is the most difficult thing I have done. It is complex and nuanced. No parent or child is the worst thing they have ever done. Each child I behold not only bears the image of God but also the hopes of their parents; their people. I get that. I know what it is to have the dreams of your family resting on your shoulders. When my students are older, I hope they know how much I fought for them. I hope they know how much I loved them. I hope they know how much I valued them.

There are lots of lessons to learn throughout the course of a school year, but I hope to infuse students and the families I serve with new hope. A new hope which restores truth to a generation of black and brown children who have been told that they are incapable. All children are capable of learning. All children are worthy of love. This blog is more of a note-to-self. May I always stand in these truths in the classroom.

“I got my truth back…you gave that to me. Ain’t nobody gone take that from us.” – Walter McMillian [Just Mercy]

Forty feels @ Forty

Most of my birthdays begin with reflection and today was no different. Four decades of life…hard to believe. I often feared not living beyond 34 years of life (age my father died). Today I decided to list forty feelings I have as I enter my fortieth year of life. Here’s to the feels.

I FEEL…

  1. Alive
  2. Grateful
  3. Challenged
  4. Fulfilled
  5. Hopeful
  6. Joyful
  7. Fit
  8. Whole
  9. Surprised
  10. Unfulfilled
  11. Sadness
  12. Loved
  13. Foolish
  14. Known
  15. Satisfied
  16. Beautiful
  17. Longing
  18. Light
  19. Free
  20. Courageous
  21. Connected
  22. Peace
  23. Jaded
  24. Anger
  25. Content
  26. Accepted
  27. Human
  28. Tired
  29. Unknown
  30. Alone
  31. Purposeful
  32. Deep Loss
  33. Enjoyed
  34. Experienced
  35. Misunderstood
  36. Feeble
  37. Strong
  38. Unseen
  39. Human
  40. Barren

I don’t always feel capable. I don’t always feel strong. I don’t always feel loved. I don’t always feel known. Today, I am thankful to be in a place where these feelings can safely reside in me to remind me of my humanity and desperate need for God. No longer ignoring heart ache to search for heart joy, but rather embracing both as a sign that I am fully alive.

Forty feels simultaneously amazing and complex. This is not how I thought forty would look and I’m okay with that. I really am okay with all of that.

on the other side

Imagine what it’s like to be stuck in a reality that dismantles your family, presumes your guilt based on your God-given gear ( I’m talkin’ skin color), and leaves you with a thousand sleepless nights and I will tell you what it’s like to have a Black son, brother, husband, father or friend to undergo the unwieldy American unjust justice system. Key word here is REALITY. For some the account of When They See Us by Ava DuVernay is philosophical and conversations loom around poetic pros and pithy arguments, yet I am unable to escape the striking resemblance to my family’s reality of justice gone wrong.

So many images from this series are seared into my psyche but none more piercing than that of a pride so deep that produces prejudicial action. This is the stuff of oppressive systems. My stomach turned in knots as I realized that when they (Whites) see us, they remember her (White investment banker brutally raped). How could they not? A judge, who like most, keeps a doting picture of his (White) wife on the bench; a young, White female prosecutor; fill in the _____________. A quick substitution of the rape victim with the face of the one they love and the five black boys on trial are no longer seen as such, but as a wolf pack to protect their loved ones from. This instinctive ability to re-imagine ourselves or a person we love/care about that has been victimized is all natural. Development of my empathetic muscles has come from a place of love through proximity. So, I’ll say it – love differently ya’ll. Love different people from different places of different races with different experiences and I am certain you will no longer see a wolf pack. You’ll see a student, a friend, someone’s brother, a child, a person.

http://www.glamour.com Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

On the other side of incarceration there are parents, siblings, children, friends who experience loss from a system designed to keep so many bound.

When They See Us not only exposes what happens when justice moves away from righting wrongs to jockeying for power, but also depicts the complex choices of those “on the other side.” It highlights how the pressures of our penal system forces parents to choose between provision and purported protection. Complicated.

Antron’s dad lost his son trying to protect him. Raymond’s dad would forever regret sending him to the same park where he would be targeted by police. Kevin’s sister is crushed by her 14 year old brother’s tear-filled plea to simply return home and signs a coerced confession. Complicated. Somehow through deep loss and grief, those on the other side are able to beautifully uphold the dignity of those they love. While it is painfully obvious during each episode that whiteness affords many the privilege of a better trial than their Black counterparts, I found a few other lessons embedded within.

Clinging to normalcy: the return home. The return home is anti-climactic. Fathers unprepared to receive the sons they’ve betrayed by choosing absence on court dates. Sons bravely clinging to normalcy found in the days of old. Holding tightly to the culmination of belongings in a brown paper bag. Dreaming nightly of the return home only to realize that the heart’s deep love must now sync with the awkward moments of freely being present with loved ones as the muscle memory of trauma reminds everyone to restrain affection and the expression of feelings. Trauma makes normal abnormal. We must be gentle with one another.

We are not okay: lying to survive The penal system can produce a family of pretenders. We all pretend that everything is okay post incarceration. Because how do you even begin to process that all involved have less hope in a justice system that doesn’t value our Black lives or legacy? Korey’s mom would ask him, “What is it like for you in here? Are they treating you okay?” His response was always, “I’m surviving…” or “I’m holding it down…” Responses which are echoed all across America. We may never know the entire story of someone’s trauma. For those that choose vulnerability, let them do so in their own time and in their own way. We must be gentle with one another.

“I’m just a shadow,” says Korey Wise, one of the exonerated five and victim of horrific beatings. “I’m very empty — 46 years old and empty. At the same time, I’m talking to the kid in me: ‘I got you, baby boy. Nobody can take your story from you.'”

Real love…I’m searching for a real love…someone to really see me. (cue Mary J. Blige song) It is real love that slowly shifts our gaze beyond bias and towards humanity. Love is less about whimsy, more about choice. It is an outright intention to choose another over yourself. It is sacrificial at it’s core. Consider those on the other side of incarceration (or providing trauma support) and ask yourself, how have I loved them? These parents, children, siblings, loved ones are often left in the shadows. Those who’ve directly experienced trauma and those supporting them need that real love.

“All I do all day long is LOVE YOU.” — Mother of Antron McCray, one of the exonerated five boys.

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