Friday, September 23, 2011

Further Reflections on the Execution of Troy Davis

Today, I am not shocked or surprised that Troy Davis was put to death.  The same website that posted breaking news of the delay did so after it posted news of his execution-an hour before it was even scheduled.

Troy Davis was always going to die.

Reasonable doubt has rarely been enough to spare a black person’s life.

Even as I write that, I feel the need to qualify it as being unfair—but is it?

Wes and I have a five-year-old boy in kindergarten right now and we are both fully invested in correcting his behavior.  We are actively teaching him not to talk back and to obey—immediately—without question.  We are doing that because we fully believe that if we don’t, one day we will be trying to hug him through the bars of a jail cell.

We think about time-out when he acts up.  The difference is that we are thinking of time out of life.  We are thinking of time in prison.

We think that way because we have internalized that even if his behavior is above reproach, the reality of his blackness means that he is not safe from sanction.  He is not safe from authority.  He is not safe from death.

We won’t teach him this, but we won’t have to.  He will learn it on his own and he will learn it early.  Policemen are only friendly in kindergarten—by elementary school he’ll know better.  When he gets to that high school civics class he will learn how justice is supposed to work, but he will already have learned that this kind of justice won’t apply to him.

He will learn about democracy and he will think that it is a dream.

Wes and I know that this will happen and we know that it will be largely independent of the people he comes into contact with.  His teacher is white and we don’t assume that she is racist.  Her whiteness—her American-ness—suggest though, that she may have preconceived notions of acceptable behavior for black children that she isn’t even aware of.  We aren’t blaming her but we know that we have to be vigilant for her.

It is bigger than individuals.  It is systematic.  It is institutionalized.  It is in the air.

What does this kind of education, this hidden curriculum, mean when we start talking about things like democracy and citizenship?  What does this mean when we try to teach students about the fourteenth amendment and their rights and protections under the law?  What does this mean when we start talking about the power of the people in representative government?  What does this mean when we teach about the civil rights movement?

How do we teach black children and other children of color, who are fully aware that this country is a hostile environment and who are growing up in the midst of a culture of fear and loathing, that we have a government that can bring about justice for them?

How do we do that when we don’t believe in it ourselves?

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