Kelly Speaks: Time to End Default Thinking on Race

As this year comes to a close, my heart breaks for Tamir Rice's family and to all the many others who have lost children to such senseless and violent acts with little to no accountability or justice to follow.

How could anyone watch the video of police driving up directly in front of Tamir and instantly shooting him without feeling the force of that bullet in one’s own chest?

That black children are systematically treated like
de facto criminals in America is not news to many of us who have worked in education. I know students who were harassed by police on their way to school and told they were stupid when they got there. Fortunately, better reporting is showing more of the general public how disparate treatment and harsher punishments are systematically meted out along racial lines in both our education and judicial systems.

Sometimes the lack of accountability for adults whose work directly impacts children’s lives—the “protect one’s own” culture that characterizes both the law enforcement and teaching professions—seems surreal to me. 

Black children, especially boys, aren’t learning
how to read in school, yet we are told time and again that teachers can’t be held accountable for whether and what their students learn. Black children are shot dead—on video!—and no one is charged. We blame the children for their own educational failure or demise, again, and again, and again.

I think of the millions of African people dragged across the ocean in chains, and how now, a century and a half later, we seem to be figuratively throwing their children—especially the boys—back into that ocean, to tread water alone until the forces of nature pull them under or a predator swallows them whole and they disappear forever. Does this sound like a dramatic overstatement? It doesn't to me. We are so far from providing equal protection, education and support to all children that I often wonder how we will ever get there. 

What can we do as individuals to change the future?

In the New Year and beyond, I believe we all must become more vigilant in examining how our own behavior and responses to situations serve to maintain a culture in which skin color is considered an acceptable way to judge another person's character, intelligence, potential, intention or moral goodness.

I am especially speaking to fellow white people who still believe, for whatever reason, that their skin color makes them somehow different than or superior to other human beings. The evidence is all around you that this is a lie, but seeing the lie does require opening your eyes and recognizing your own “default” thinking when it happens. We do not have to carry forward the default thinking and the myths that we inherited from previous generations. Have that thought? Rethink it.

What else can we as individuals do to “be the change”? We must each find our own way, but it can start with, I believe: 

  • Using our voices whenever and wherever we can for equality and justice;
  • Intervening on behalf of others when we have the opportunity to steer situations towards justice;
  • Sharing and discussing examples of injustice on social media and keeping pressure on the media to report them; and,
  • Simply reaching out to and getting to know more people who have a different background from our own.

    Refuse to live in an isolated bubble.

Volunteer and mentor: whether you support children, youth or other adults by sharing your time and experience, there is always someone who can use help in fulfilling their dreams. There is always some parent who could use a bigger village of support for their children or an organization that can use an extra set of hands. By getting involved, you too might be transformed.

We can’t change history, but we can change what happens next. We can break the chains in our own thinking and behavior at an individual level and work together for justice at the national level.  

Wishing you all peace and a better, safer world in the New Year.