I’m going to give you an analogy here. It’s not a perfect analogy, because I’m using the example of children, and Black Lives Matter is not only about children, by a long shot.
Here’s the scene: You’re a white parent of a white boy, now in his junior year of high school in a town of mostly white people. This is a town where kids start in school with each other and are with the same kids all the way through high school-basically, a closed system. In testing all through school, your son came out just as smart as everyone else, and somewhat smarter than some.
The minute your son stepped into kindergarten, almost all the other kids thought it would be fun to tease him until he cried. This went on all through kindergarten, elementary school, middle school. The teasing turned to name-calling, humiliating and eventually, physical violence. And it’s still happening now. In kindergarten, you went to the school principal and let him (it’s usually a him) know what was going on. The principal said, “kids will be kids; he just needs to learn not to let it bother him.” Your son tried to ignore the taunts, but they continued on, getting louder and more frequent. You went to the teachers, wanting to brainstorm ways to let the children as a whole know it’s not okay to bully kids. The teachers said they’d never seen it happening so they couldn’t really call kids out when nothing might be happening. You went to PTA meetings and told the parents what was happening. They said, “It’s just a few bad apples. Our kids are good kids. Maybe your son did something to bring this on himself.”
Over the many years, you kept making the rounds among all these people, trying to get them to see that there was a problem in the way the school was being run. It was always the same thing: something was wrong with your son. He must be bringing this on himself. At the same time as you were advocating for him, he was trying all kinds of methods to cope with it, or make it better, or make it stop. Nothing worked.
You’ve become increasingly frustrated and then angry. Your son has alternated between despondency, frustration and anger. When it continued as he entered high school, he said to himself, “screw this trying to be the “better” person,” and he started to fight back against the people who attacked him physically and verbally. School officials came down on him so quickly and fiercely that you’d have thought he was a terrorist-which, strangely, they started accusing him of being.
Finally, you start yelling to everyone-principal, teachers, parents-“My son matters!” And they go all up in arms. “Every child matters! Your child is not the only one that matters! How dare you!” And now they’re watching his every move. If he looks angry in class, the teacher sends him to the principal who assumes he’s planning to attack the teacher. If someone taunts him and he yells something back, he’s in detention for a couple of weeks. If someone shoves him and he shoves back, he’s suspended from school for a month.
You see where this is going. It’s a closed system and it’s all against your son. There’s nothing he or you can do to get him out of it. The thing is, maybe you and your family could move to another town.
But for Black people, there’s nowhere to move. It’s in the whole country.
That’s why it’s important to say “Black Lives Matter!”
Zoe Zimmermann is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Boulder, CO. She would like to help create a more humane and caring country where everyone feels they belong. See http://www.zoez-therapy.com. Twitter: zoezimmermann.
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