I am a NYC public school teacher living in the Bronx and a Chester Academy alum. I have considered Chester my home for the last 15 years and whenever I visit my mom, I read The Chronicle. In July 24’s publication, I read two opinion pieces that I found deeply troubling: “Their blood isn’t white or black but red” by Daniel Forst and “If we destroy America...” by Deborah Diltz.
Both pieces reflect discomfort when talking about race. Both pieces gaslight the truth about systemic racism. They doubt others’ experiences of race and racism and try to push the “everything is alright” mentality, when in fact, not a lot is alright. I imagine it must be challenging to see change that questions your privilege. I imagine that for some people, this may be the first time they feel threatened by losing their place in society because of the color of their skin.
As Mr. Forst says, everyone’s blood runs red. I have used this argument in the past, too, but advocating others to not “see race” and be colorblind is problematic. While everyone’s blood runs red, you’ll find that the blood of Black people is spilled most often. (I noticed that both authors paraphrased and quoted Dr. King, who fought for racial equality. As a reminder, Reverend King was still murdered.)
Mr. Forst mentions his experience as a police officer and his positive relationships with communities of color. It’s important to remember that the police system was created in America to capture enslaved people as part of a “slave patrol.” This is the origin of policing: to control Black bodies. That ideology still continues today, and we painfully see that in the recent murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
In New York, Black people are 14 percent of the population, yet they make up 47.9 percent of the prison population. In America, Black people make up less than 13 percent of the population, but they are killed by police at twice the rate as white people. You can be a police officer who has empathy and respect for others, but you must still recognize that you are part of a system that has historically oppressed and dehumanized Black people.
Mr. Forst specifically refers to his experiences in Bed-Stuy, East New York and the South Bronx. People of color living in low-income neighborhoods with high crime rates is not accidental. City planning was racially motivated. (I strongly recommend reading “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates to learn more about redlining.)
These neighborhoods are near high-traffic roads, a carefully planned decision made in the 1950s and 1960s, and they house the city’s poorest neighborhoods. They receive low federal funding for infrastructure and schools, are food deserts, have poor air quality and, more recently, have been hit hardest by COVID-19. They were built to be this way.
Think about neighborhoods you feel safe in. They don’t have swarms of police patrolling the street. They likely have green spaces, community events, local libraries, small businesses, walkable streets and strong school systems. In short, they have funding and resources. The neighborhoods Mr. Forst mentions don’t need more policing, they need more resources. As Nic Stone writes in her novel “Dear Martin,” in order for people to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps...they have to be able to afford bootstraps.”
Ms. Diltz writes that she feels “saddened” for Warwick because its white residents were accused of being racists. She also states that she had “never heard of racial trouble, police brutality or coded micro-aggressions.”
For reference, 86.8 percent of Warwick’s population is white, so perhaps Ms. Diltz’s experience is part of the majority. It should not, however, exclude the experiences of the 3.26 percent of Black people in Warwick, who likely have been stereotyped, faced redlining or had to confront microaggressions.
Is it so revolutionary to believe your neighbors?
And no, Ms. Diltz, being white does not mean you “take collective blame” for injustices, but you must, at the very least, confront the systems of oppressions that exist and how you, as a white person, benefit from them. It means realizing that your life is the way it is because of your skin color.
If you hear “Black Lives Matter” and your brain responds with “but what about my life?” then consider learning about how the movement calls for equality. You will learn that your experiences are different from those of Black people, making it all the more important for us to hear and believe diverse Black voices.
Identify sources of oppression instead of quietly benefiting from them. Use your privilege to uplift and empower people of color. Lean into the discomfort of unlearning your privilege in society. Understand that changing your perspective when presented with new information is a critical aspect of growth.
And if you find it uncomfortable to talk about racism, imagine what it must feel like to actually live it.