Saturday, August 16, 2014

#Iftheygunnedmedown: What the conversation needs to turn into and Why Diversity and Inclusion need to be taught in Pre-K

I remember I was 18.  It was dark, and I was with my sister when I got pulled over by the police.  We were visiting relatives in Mississippi and had just left our cousins house and were heading back to another Aunts house where my parents were visiting.  My mother had let us drive her car around,  a Red Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Explorer and there was a certain level of freedom and prestige in driving her car.  So, being the teenagers that we were, music blasting, rehashing the good time and the nights events with each other, my sister and I headed back to the house.

We stopped at a stop sign and proceeded to go forward when police sirens from across the street sped up toward us.  Not thinking that it was me, I slowed down to let the cops pass me.  When he turned on his horn and shot his light toward our car, I immediately froze.  We were in the deep south, two teenagers in my mothers car and there were no other cars on the street.  Actually, there was no one else around.  Heart racing a mile a minute, and over my best judgement, I pulled over.

One by one police cars showed up.  All of a sudden, police surrounded us.    By the time the initial officer had gotten to my car, there were at least 5 other cars surrounding my mother's Explorer.  All for two teenage girls driving back to her aunts house after seeing their cousins.

A million thoughts raced through my head.  "What did we do wrong?" Why did he pull us over?" "Is he going to make some thing up so we go to jail?" "Are they going to beat us?" "Are we going to die?"

The officer came up to the window and told us he pulled us over because we "rolled though the stop sign".  I said "no we didn't, I made a complete stop."  Angry that he was being challenged, he asked for my license and registration and when I produced my mother's information, he incredulously asked me who's car was I driving.  I told him it was my mother's.  He came back to his car as other officer's got out of their car and headed toward my mother's.  Several officer's surrounded the car flashing their flashlight's through our window's hoping to find something.  My sister started crying.  I started to tear up.  I didn't know what was going to happen to us.  We had done nothing wrong.  The only thing that was wrong was the color of our skin.

After holding us for about an hour, he let us go that night and I was relieved.  You might think that my earlier questions were irrational.  So let me tell you another story.

I was driving to work one evening in Washington, DC.  I had graduated from college, but still retained my license plates from the state where I grew up in which is not an unusual occurrence in DC.  I stopped at a stop sign and proceeded to turn down the street where my job was, when I got pulled over by police.  Not realizing that my registration had expired, the cops pulled me over because I had "rolled through a stop sign"  I may be wrong, but I have come to understand the term "rolled through a stop sign" as code for "just being black".  When they checked my tags, they immediately handcuffed me, put me in the police car and I headed off to jail.  Yes, I was arrested and taken to jail because I had expired tags.  Now before you say, "But it's illegal to drive with expired tags"  Had I known and been given the opportunity right there, I would have paid the appropriate fees.   What sense does it make to take someone with NO history or record of any kind to jail?  This is a minor offense.  Usually you receive a ticket, are told to abandon your car and get it towed and go about your way.  I was a block away from my job, heading into work.  Embarrassed, I had to call my boss to tell him I was being arrested and taken to jail.  This punishment was excessive.  I posed no threat to society.  I did not have a criminal record.  The color of my skin gave me a criminal record.

People wonder why African American's distrust police officers.  Every run in that I have had with police has never been a good one.  And I have lived a relatively privileged life.  I went to private schools from the time I was in Pre-k to Graduate school.  I know how to defuse my persona to be non-threatening.  I comply when asked.  My general demeanor is very friendly.  And the harsh reality is that I know that still won't be able to save me if I happen upon the wrong policeman or highway patrol or mall cop, or vigilante citizen, or "homeowner".  The color of my skin apparently blocks me from being saved.

Trayvon Martin. Renisha McBride. Michael Brown. Marlene Pinnock. Eric Garner. Jordan Davis. Randolph Evans. Ezell Ford. John Crawford. Emmitt Till.

I could go on.

This is a serious issue that needs addressing.  An issue that needs refocusing.  An issue that needs to look at the root and not the leaf.  Before men and women become police officers.  Before they become judges, or jurors or executioners.  We need to combat the inherent fear that white people have of minorities.

I'm not going to rehash why black lives matter.  I have done that over and over and over again.  What I will do is talk about what needs to be done in the future for our children, and our children's children so that when they grow up and want to be police officers and law enforcement authorities or children heading off to higher education, or just children walking down the street, we will prepare them and equip them with the tools necessary to combat this fear and these stereotypes so that innocent children stop getting killed just because they are breathing.

I can remember entering Kindergarten and I knew instantly that I was different from everyone else, but I didn't know why.  What I did know is that my difference was not a quirky neat character trait, my difference was something to be repelled.  I can remember being called nigger, blackie and told I have cooties, so I should be avoided.  And this was all before the 3rd grade.

Some will write off these experiences as kids being kids, but if we were to look closely at the situation and parallel that of boys and the lessons they still need to learn from respecting women later in life, It would do us a world of good if we started early.

What many people don't know is that kids form their opinions about different races of people at a very early age through their parents teachings and through their school interactions.  Although i'm not a teacher its seems like teaching about diversity should be a main component of developing the overall intelligence of a young mind.

My son will enter Pre-K in the fall.  We've spent months trying to find a school that would meet our criteria.  A school that fostered his sense of independence, a school that had a good curriculum to enhance a child's natural ability to learn and most importantly, a school that was truly diverse.  But what good is going to a diverse school if the children themselves don't know how to interact with one another?

If a core curriculum centered around diversity and inclusion were implemented nationwide for the early formative years (Pre-K-3rd grade) then maybe we could start to truly enter a post-racial era.  These principles need to be taught early, not when we are entering, have been in or are about to retire from the workforce.

After what happened  to Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.  there has been a  concentration on teaching diversity training to police officers. That may solve the public's perception, but that wont solve the police's profiling.  You all have been to them. These mandatory training's at work that are suppose to "challenge your belief system"  and "explore looking at a co-worker differently" It's all a bunch of crap. If we were really trying to do something about diversity and inclusion why wouldn't you start young?  Why not include diversity as a core part of the early learning curriculum?  Because working on diversity as an adult works on the leaf, not the root.

Teaching these principles to children while they are young might counteract negative beliefs.  If children are given the space in school to properly navigate diversity within the peers that they interact with, imagine growing up with the notion that the color of your skin really doesn't matter.  We try earnestly to believe now that it doesn't, but these recent reports of police brutality show that we have yet to gain that gold star.  Truly living in a post-racial society.