Response to Ferguson
By Dr. Andrea Kandel, NCCJ President & CEO
I sit here trying to figure out how to respond to the recent incidents of police violence against black boys and men and I’m finding it challenging. I find it challenging because of my feelings of anger, as well as feelings of hopelessness for change. However, I have been doing social justice work all my adult life and I have seen change and I need to believe, that we, as a people, can do better if we understand how we got here. So this is my attempt as well as my pledge to do my part to make a difference.
The injustice of our justice system is not new to me. The treatment of people with more melanin in their skin is different…and has been throughout my lifetime… than people with less melanin. As a white woman I was socialized, just like all other white people, to believe that “justice is colorblind” and that “all people are treated equally”. But that is not the case and it never has been. Our country was built on inequality of skin difference and continues to be this way. One just needs to look at our prison system to see this inequality of justice. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. Five times as many whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prisons for drug offenses at ten times the rate of whites. African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months).
It is NOT our fault as white people that we learned these equality myths and stereotypes about “the other” – HOWEVER, it is VITAL to our communities that we as white people are aware of the privilege having lighter skin tone brings throughout our daily life and know that as a white person, I/we see this world, move around in this world and are treated differently because of our lighter skin tone. In addition, I, as well as all other white people, were socialized (both unconsciously and consciously) about people with darker skin tones.
I cannot not speak for law enforcement officers; I have never been in their shoes. However, I do know that unless we examine our socialization and our conscious and unconscious attitudes toward the “other” we will react with our socialized biases and not realize we are doing this – that is the hard truth. When I was a teenager, I never had any doubt that I would grow up and live through my teen years no matter what kind of trouble I might have caused. No law enforcement officer would look at me – even if I had a hooded sweatshirt – in any way other than a young person. Despite the fact that my brother and I shop lifted candy when we were in elementary school from a neighborhood grocery store, no one ever saw me or my brother as a “demon” or a “thug” (Darren Wilson’s words referring to Michael Brown). I did not think my life was threatened when pulled over by a “cop” because I was doing 80 mph on a 55 mph highway. This is not the experience of darker skinned people in this country.
My favorite bumper sticker is “You Do Not Have To Believe Everything You Think” – but, in my profession and life I am given the luxury to have time to think about my socialization about “the other” and what my personal experience has been with people…not what I was taught. I understand law enforcement officers must react instantaneously with their lives constantly on the line. All the more reason for this profession to examine and explore the ways they were socialized around race and in particular dark skinned boys and men. This is not the only change that needs to happen to end the killing of dark skinned men and boys, but it is one of the important aspects that is needed.
Here are my strengths and my commitment as a white woman who has worked for social justice over many decades. I am good at building relationships and educating around issues of social justice without blame. I will be reaching out to the police departments in Hartford, Springfield and here in Windsor to begin to build relationships and build trust in hopes that I and NCCJ will be able work with our local law enforcement officers to build the kind of truly just communities we all deserve to live in. This is just a beginning.
About the National Conference for Community and Justice
Formed 1927, NCCJ is a nonprofit human relations organization that promotes inclusion and acceptance by providing education and advocacy while building communities that are respectful and just for all. Celebrating the diversity of races, religions, cultures, genders, abilities, and sexual orientations.
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