Some of you know what I mean by “the conversation.” It is the conversation parents who are NOT Caucasion have with their children, especially their make children about what to do, specific behaviors to avid and engage when stopped by the police. African American and Latino parents typically have this conversation with boys as they enter adolescence, 11-13.
While at the Quadrennial planning meeting last week, a friend and colleague reflected and lamented on how her Latina friend in Los Angeles posted on Facebook that she felt that she needed to have “the conversation” with her 8 year old son.
I have never had to wonder if my son will be stopped or shot by police. I have
never had to say goodbye in the morning, send him off to school and pray that
if for some reason he gets stopped by police he is not at risk to be arrested,
beaten or worse. I am learning that this is not true for mothers whose skin
color I do not share, but whose love and protective instinct for their children
I do. The police are steeped in a culture of racism, just like the rest of us. All of us need to be held accountable for our collusion in it, however enlightened we may think we are.
Compassion is the capacity to walk in someone else’s shoes, to try as best as I can to understand the world through their eyes, their heart and yes, their skin. Jesus lived and taught this kind of compassion. When I think of Trayvon Martin’s family, it aches. When I think of his brother who has never seen Trayvon behave in a manner described by the shooter and is bewildered by his description of the event, I am angry. Who gets to tell the story of the incident? The one left living. Had a black man held the gun, shot and killed a boy claiming self-defense with no witnesses to back it up, he would have been in jail within hours of the incident. That I believe.
An antidote to racism is the development of compassion. This requires us to listen to people whose stories are different from our own. This requires us to listen differently. I am helped by the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assiss:
grant that I might so much seek to be understood as to understand. Will you join me in the living of this prayer?