Powerlessness and silence go together. We… should use our privileged positions not as a shelter from the world’s reality, but as a platform from which to speak. A voice is a gift. It should be cherished and used. –Margaret Atwood
I got a call tonight from my 13-year-old son. He had gone to visit a friend who lives in an apartment complex. He was being told by the property manager that he was trespassing and that he was not allowed to be there.
My son was being accused of causing damage to a vehicle and told that he was not allowed on the property. Here’s the thing: no one saw who did it, and it was several months ago. There had been a family with two (black) kids who used to live there. These two kids had caused a lot of trouble. My son is black. The manager claimed that my son was friends with these two kids, and therefore guilty by association.
The problem is, my son has no idea who these two kids are. He says he had seen them a few times, but never hung out with them. The manager claims that he had seen the three of them ‘together.’ But there is no one who saw Keith do anything wrong. This manager decided that Keith was a trouble-maker because of an imaginary connection to the kids whose family had been kicked out of the complex.
It was frustrating, and I could not help but think that, somehow, the ‘playing while black’ thing was going on. The manager had called the police. The officer just shook his head and said ‘This is a non-police issue.’ and left.
We took our son and went home (after getting him Dairy Queen). I don’t know what the manager’s real motive was. I don’t know why he thought my son was guilty. God know my son is not a saint. What should I do?
I told my son, “I believe you. He was wrong to treat you like that.” At the same time, I had to add, “When you are in a similar situation, no matter how wrong the other person is, you are still responsible for your own actions. You must remain calm and respectful.”
And that is how I can be an ally to my son, by hearing, supporting, and believing him. My privilege is that I am a white, middle-class, married housewife. I am socially acceptable. Non-threatening. I have many friends who do not have the same privilege I do.
I am here to bear witness and to use my ‘platform’ to let other voices ring out. Today, there is much buzz about the sexual harassment of women by men in power. The women have been afraid to speak up because it would have been devastating to their career. There were calls for men to no longer give respect to men who don’t respect women.
I think the same is true for non-minority folks having a mandate to speak up when and where we see discrimination. If you are suffering, I want to say ‘I see you.’ My prayers and actions are with determination to see truth and justice reign.