Growing up next to Ferguson, Sarafina Bianco thought she understood. But she didn’t—until now.
I have it.
It’s not that I didn’t already know it existed before Mike Brown’s death and its aftermath, but it was certainly easy for me to overlook. As I’ve written here before, it’s a tragic thing to watch your childhood home burn down. And, as the grand jury decision was read last Monday and the local news stations began showing the assemblies becoming riots, well, it hit again. This time? It was more personal, more painful and disheartening.
But other than the finality of it all, I wasn’t sure why it affected me so deeply. A decision. A reaction. A town left to pick up the pieces and move forward.
Some of my writing friends kept telling me this was “so much bigger than Ferguson,” and I wanted to agree. I wanted to acknowledge the truth, but couldn’t because I was too traumatized by what was happening four miles down the street from me. I was angry, begging the world to stop focusing on us and move on to something else. To stop adding lighter fluid to a situation that didn’t need any more.
Now, a week out, I’m learning my reaction is probably due to the fact that my world is vastly different than the one of those who grew up beside me.
My childhood in north county was good. My education was excellent, I shone in class and in extra curricular activities. My classrooms were always filled with people from many socio-economic classes and many races. Leaving here to go to college out of town, I was shocked when the majority of students were white. Really.
Then, when I entered teaching, I often told my students, who only knew what their parents told them, the best thing they could do for themselves was find a way to be surrounded by diversity, even just for a day. That’s the message I’ve been preaching for the last eight years.
Then this happened.
And I realize I don’t have it all together.
It’s not okay for me to say “I want the world to leave us alone” because, even though I grew up next to the people who are hurting, I didn’t grow up as them. People will leave me alone, and they’ll trust me and respect my request, but there’s a whole race of people who don’t get the same treatment. Sure, I better understand and appreciate the cultural differences between a variety of people, but I’ve still been given the benefit of the doubt for my entire life. I don’t know what it’s like to have to worry about the police every time I see them.
And Ferguson has shown me this for the first time in my 32 years.
At first I was angry because of it. It’s not my fault there is anger all around me. If I had it my way everyone would be loved equally and unconditionally. And even though I genuinely try to live my life with these codes at the forefront of my mind, and even though I want to believe I’m better at accepting everyone, the last week has proven me wrong.
I don’t understand because I haven’t lived it. All my justifications and explanations come from what I have experienced, not what they have. And so, here I am, humbled by my ignorance, wanting to reach out and ask what I can do better, how I can help.
It’s not a crime to have flaws or learn from them. But it is absolutely dangerous to believe that if you’re sitting on the sidelines talking about how you’re effected without actively seeking a solution, then you’re part of the problem.
And I know there are plenty of people who are willing and ready to attack my words. But I want them to first think about this:
Just because something isn’t your fault or didn’t start with you, does that mean you can’t help find a solution? Does that mean you can’t try to love more than you already think you are?
Doesn’t living the same life that’s comfortable for you, at the detriment of someone else, make your bliss-filled ignorance part of the problem?
And are you willing to do something about it?