I’m sitting out front, alone, waiting for the end of year school car parade to pass by in front of our house. Penny is sitting on the balcony on the second floor while Nick is in his room. He promises to come out when the parade is here. Both kids are streaming stuff on the internet. I guess I’m on the internet too. So much internet these days.
This weekend, major U.S. cities were ablaze in protest over the killing of African-American man, George Floyd, after a police officer arrested Floyd, laying him on the ground while applying pressure to Floyd’s neck with his knee. As a result of this cruel arrest tactic, George Floyd ended up dead.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with some moms at the playground. My kids used to attend a language immersion magnet school. It was a public school that drew kids from all over the city, and was very diverse, both ethnically, racially, and socio-economically.
Now, the reality of a language immersion program is that if the kid does not come from a family of native speakers, the family will likely have to fork out money to keep up with the language. Politics aside, this creates an inherently unfair situation. I didn’t speak the language, and Nick was falling behind, so for 2nd and 3rd grade I was one of many families paying for tutoring to stay in the school.
When Nick was in 3rd grade, the African American parents brought formal complaints to the PTO highlighting the fact that African American students were being disproportionately kicked out of the Mandarin school as compared to other kids. This dialogue introduced a lot of racial tension, and one afternoon the topic came up at the playground. One mom said,
“I don’t understand why they hold these grudges saying they’re being treated unfairly. My parents fled the communist and they don’t talk about it. They moved on.”
Another mom nodded in agreement.
It struck me that all us moms standing there were first generation Americans. My parents immigrated from Colombia, so when the Civil Rights Movement was taking place, my parents and grandparents, like theirs, were a world away in another country. We just plain weren’t part of it.
“We can’t relate to how those parents feel about discrimination,” I had said, “It’s likely that they or their parents or grandparents, have experienced outright racism in all these institutions. Our families weren’t here for any of it.”
There’s this (political) narrative that all racial and ethic groups deserve some grace for being in the minority and the inherent unfairness of that. Fine. But the problem with this is it fails to account for specific history. It fails to explain why cities erupt in protest when something like what happened to George Floyd takes place. It fails to account for why African American parents are sensitive to racial bias in public school. There’s a reason people are sensitive. Unfortunately, institutional racism against African Americans has deep roots in the U.S.