Protesters shouted from my TV. As I watched, my stomach moved its way up into my throat.
I watched more. Tears rolled down the cheeks of people I didn’t know.
I watched. Cars were overturned.
I watched. People walked together and chanted.
I watched. A young man shot. A man choked and dead. And I watched.
My 10-year-old son emerged from his bedroom as the news played across the television. He stopped behind my right shoulder, watching as Eric Garner held his arms above his head and a police officer choked him and pushed him to the ground. He watched as Eric Garner gasped 11 times, “I can’t breathe.”
“What’s this,” he asked.
“The news,” I responded.
“Is this happening here?”
Usually when my son comes out at night to ask a question, I answer and tell him to go back to bed. But I didn’t this time. As homeschooling parents, we try to present a full picture of history and current events to our children: Columbus’s arrival resulted in the slaughter of millions, the Declaration of Independence was written when all people were not treated as equals, slavery didn’t end with the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement didn’t stop with Martin Luther King Jr., Stonewall shouldn’t be overlooked, and torture is wrong. And so my son and I watched together.
We watched and we talked. We talked about how justice in this country often tilts away from African-Americans and people of color. And as we talked, I thought of Eric Garner and his children. His children will never have another conversation with their father. They will never get to hear his advice or his recounting of a story. I have always told my kids that if they are in trouble or lost, they should find a police officer. But would a black parent give their kids the same advice? Would I if I were black?
I am not anti-law enforcement. My wife and I teach our children to respect and honor police officers and there are many good officers (some who are close friends and neighbors) that take seriously their pledge to protect and serve. The problem is not with individual officers; the entire system is broken. And even individual officers who are otherwise blameless shoulder the guilt of a system that is unjust.
Now I know that often times liberal white men (like me) love to preach against racism from our white privileged couches. We act as though we are Jerry McGuire yelling, “I love black people.” We want everyone to see us and say, “There’s a good white guy.” And I don’t want to be another white guy writing about racism as though I know what it feels like to be a person of color in America. There is no way that someone like me can fully comprehend it.
But that doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t ache for those who experience the pains of racism. That doesn’t mean that I have nothing to add to the conversation. When we ride the subway in NYC, you’ll hear over the speaker, “If you see something, say something.” My blog is my outlet. My blog is my voice. I have something to say. I have somewhere to say it.
I don’t want to watch while injustices are happening around me.
My family recently joined marchers in New York City. One of the things we shouted as we marched was “Black lives matter!” As a white dad raising white kids, it’s my job to teach this to my children. That all people are created by God in his image and are equal.
The pessimist in me believes racism will always be here. That nothing will change. But the optimist in me hopes – hopes that racism will end someday. For that to happen, we have to teach our kids to value all human lives. We have to teach our children that justice matters and that, as The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”