I had an encounter with the police a few weeks ago. I am an avid cyclist, and had a flat while on a ride, about 15 miles from home. I was struggling to change my tire when a local officer drove by, stopped to see if I needed help and offered to drive me to my house. I took her up on it, not wanting to spend any more time baking in the hot sun. My bike went into the back seat, I sat in the front and we chatted about the weather during the drive.
It was hardly the most important task on the police agenda, but I was grateful. I also realized, however, that my comfort in being taken home via police car was a privilege of my white skin. It is possible, too, that some officers would not even have offered to help me if I was black (although I make no assumptions about the particular officer in my case).
A week after my ride, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men, were killed by police in Baton Rouge, La., and St. Paul, Minn., respectively. Shortly afterward, five police officers — Michael Krol, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith — were killed in Dallas by a sniper who said he was upset by Sterling and Castile’s deaths. My heart is heavy for all their families and friends.
(Editor’s note: This column was submitted before three police officers were fatally shot in Baton Rouge on July 17.)
Sterling and Castile are only the latest in a long list of black people killed by police under highly questionable circumstances. One, Tamir Rice, was only 12, just a year older than my own son at the time.
And the shootings come while the LGBTQ community is still reeling from the horrific shooting in an Orlando LGBTQ nightclub — a shooting in which the majority of victims were people of color. LGBTQ people have rightly said that the Orlando shooting destroyed the sense of safety that LGBTQ bars had offered. For people of color, however, LGBTQ and not, safety in our country has always been precarious.
I think about this, too: Half of the children under 18 living with same-sex couples are non-white, compared to only 41 percent of children living with different-sex couples, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. And black or Latino same-sex couples are twice as likely as white ones to be raising children. (Statistics were unavailable for LGBTQ parents not in same-sex couples.) Racism is very much an LGBTQ parenting issue, as much as adoption or surrogacy or marriage equality. If we want justice for LGBTQ families, we must work towards justice for our whole community, which means addressing the systemic racism in our country that devalues the lives of people of color.
I have seen my Facebook feed full of posts from both black and white friends who have black children. They are scared and tired and angry and determined. They have been relating (yet again) stories of having “the talk” with their kids about what to do if stopped by police.
My own son has reached the age where he and his friends sometimes go to the local library or corner store after school without adult supervision. He is white, but I have told him about “the talk” because his friends of color are having it with their parents. We have discussed what white privilege is and how it is not a cause for guilt, but rather a reason for action. I want him to be able to support his friends if they are ever stopped for “loitering” or “being noisy” or any of the other innocuous things that can bring harm upon a person of color in our country today.
What more can we do? I don’t pretend to know the full answer. I do know that it is up to us parents to raise children who see skin color as beautiful human variation, who understand that it doesn’t affect intelligence or ability but that it does impact one’s experience in our world.
Those of us raising white children must teach them what racism is and to speak out or tell us when they see it in action. We must show them that people of color are not objects of fear but people in all their human complexity. We must make sure the books, movies and television shows our children encounter include people of color — and not just as stereotypes or secondary characters.
Change must happen in legislatures, courtrooms and police policies and training, too. As we have learned from many of the battles over LGBTQ parenting, though, it also happens during the everyday encounters in schools, on soccer fields and in supermarkets. We must model anti-racist attitudes for our children and speak out ourselves when we see racism — not just explicit acts like using the “n-word,” but also systemic racism that means children of color are treated differently in school or poorly represented in the media. We must not put the burden on people of color to teach us about racism, but listen when they share their stories and perspectives.
The shootings in Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas, like so many before, showed us the worst of our country. Let us take it upon ourselves to show what the best can be — a country of compassion, not violence — and raise the next generation to do the same.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.