Since the shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager from Ferguson, Missouri, we've seen a fair amount of commentary from the community about racism in America. GLAAD has worked diligently to uplift the voices of black LGBT leaders who have been speaking out.
Today's post explores personal narratives that shed more light on the same stories that are being raised in Ferguson. It is through these personal stories that we can better understand the systemic racism that continues to pervade our cultures and how it intersects with our advocacy for people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Ace Robinson, Director of Health Education, Prevention, and Public Policy & Advocacy at Lifelong in Seattle is originally from St. Louis. He knows Ferguson well, and he wrote in the Huffington Post (and later a shorter op-ed for the Seattle Times) about why he left St. Louis.
As a teenager in St. Louis, I, like many of my friends, experienced constant harassment from the police. The week after I got my driver’s license, I was pulled over after dropping a friend off at his apartment with another friend in the car for absolutely no reason. All three of us were black.
There’s a term for this: It’s called Driving While Black. The police verbally berated and demanded to know why we were in that apartment complex, where the tenants were predominately white. I went home and told my mother, a public school teacher, what occurred. The result: I listened to my mother cry herself to sleep after we filed an official complaint, knowing that nothing would come from it.
As a teenager, I never drove without a tape recorder in the car. When I experienced my weekly — often biweekly — police pullover, I would place it on the dashboard and hit record.
When the officer walked up to the car, I would say: “Good afternoon, Officer (Insert name),” announce the date and time, and ask why I was being stopped. This script might have saved my life more than once. After Rodney King, black men learned police may be held responsible when their actions are recorded. And even in Los Angeles, that was not guaranteed.
I used academics to get away by attending college on the East Coast, in the same way that my mother used education to flee the Jim Crow South 35 years prior to my birth.
Zach Stafford, the author of BOYS, as well as a contributor to the Chicago Tribune, writes for the Guardian about his relationship with his brother. Zach is biracial, and his brother is a white police officer in Tennessee. One night, he read that his brother was involved in a shooting and shot a black man. Stafford wrote about how he grappled with that news for years following:
[T]hat’s also when I began to see just how much racism isn’t really about a single act or a single person, but rather a much larger system. A system that calls the recurring death of black male bodies “accidents”.
No matter how my mom had raised us, no matter how much my brother loved my blackness and was so proud of me for who I was, it still didn’t stop another black man from losing his life.
My white brother isn’t a racist – and he didn’t intentionally kill that man because he was black – but that’s not the point. In his case – in Ferguson and in so many other cases – we see the deaths of unarmed black men as “accidents”. And until the day we all recognize them as casualties of something much bigger, we will continue to see black men dead on the news.
From August 28-31, the “Black Life Matters Ride,” an initiative of #BlackLivesMatter, will bring activists and professionals of color from across the country to Ferguson, Missouri, as part of a national call to end state sanctioned violence against Black people. Support the ride by visiting the GoFundMe page for the Black Life Matters Ride and making a contribution.