Ferguson pt. 2: How To Move Forward

Tanya Calvin

Mr. Graf recently facilitated a meeting for students and faculty to talk about the recent events in Ferguson. The constant violence and confusion left many of us feeling lost and scared, so this conversation was an opportunity for us to safely express ourselves. Mr. Graf wanted to hold the meeting because “as a father of young men who don’t have the same struggles as a young black man does, [he] felt regret from not holding a meeting about Trayvon Martin.” Senior Patrick Elliot was also thinking of Trayvon at the meeting and felt that as “a black seventeen year old in Chicago with the opportunities [he’s] had, it’s [his] responsibility to voice [his] opinion.” Mr. Bruner, from a more concerned point of view, noted that “often these issues [of race] come into the office” and wanted to know how to help.

        Beyond voicing opinions that might have been previously silenced, we talked about how Latin can productively move forward from this. Patrick wanted Latin to do “a better job of talking about the situation and not being afraid” since he recognizes that this is an issue that affects everyone in the community. Senior Brennan Besser wants to “stop having these conversations,” not by avoiding the problem altogether, but by figuring out what can be changed in the police force so that they don’t arise in the first place. In between great ideas and frustration, Senior Oscar Monnier admitted that although he had watched the news and read articles about Ferguson, he still felt as though he didn’t “understand it at all.”

        Part of not understanding the situation is not having the opportunity to talk about it. It’s great that Mr. Graf had this meeting (another one will be held the morning of the nineteenth—e-mail Mr. Graf for details), but there are others who aren’t comfortable addressing their feelings. “That anxiety comes from fear of judgement,” Oscar noted, and almost everyone agreed that since people don’t want to come across as racist, they tend to not say anything at all.

        An easy solution to that is learning about what racism actually is before we speak up. Senior Gianna Miller suggested “providing more education about what racism today looks like,” and Senior Johnny Buchanan added that awareness is just as important. Doing so doesn’t just mean watching the nightly news and reading a few sentences on CNN. We have to go deeper and understand the roots of this monster that has been overwhelming the country.

        That means getting rid of this idea of “sides” that gets brought up when we talk about race. Junior Danny DeGraff wondered, “What if the officer who killed Mike Brown was black?” The reality is that it doesn’t matter. If we look at the bigger picture of this system of racism that controls the nation, we can realize that we’re not fighting each other but rather the “ideology that lies under the surface,” as Mr. Fript calls it. Blaming another race shuts down dialogue and doesn’t account for the real problem: institutionalized racism.

        Knowing that I was taking on something way out of my league, I sat down with Ms. Dorer so she could help me tackle it. The first thing she pointed out is that “labeling things makes us feel better because it makes us feel like we understand it when we really don’t.” It’s easy to point a finger at someone and call him or her racist, but what happens after that? Instead of “attributing behavior to individuals and their personalities, we have to question the situation and context under which they’re acting.” That way, we can comprehend the deeply rooted problem instead of what arises on the surface.

        And so began my lesson in psychology. Ms. Dorer explained that we all form memories based on something called an “availability heuristic.” It’s built on what we absorb from our surroundings and what we’ve experienced. It’s why some eyewitnesses from the Ferguson case report the incident differently; their memories are completely different because they are different people with unique experiences. A huge part of that is the media. Nobody can avoid the headlines that paint black on black violence as “gang violence” and most confrontations as “black vs. white.” News is a business. “Availability is in the numbers,” as Ms. Dorer points out. A publication doesn’t care if something is rightfully represented as long as it brings attention and controversy: in other words, more money. That’s why they’re okay with reinforcing stereotypes without considering the consequences.

        Another topic in Ms. Dorer’s class is the idea of a “stereotype threat.” Let’s break it down in terms of something a little less scary: new kids versus lifers at Latin. Some students transfer into Latin in high school and already feel behind because they didn’t have the same education as those who were here in middle school did.

        “Well, part of the problem is then you try too hard,” says Ms. Dorer, “and when you do that it backfires.” We all know that stress, don’t we? You worry about your chemistry test way too much and study four more hours than you should have. When the test comes, you stare at it and feel like you know so much less than you actually do. Too much stress just isn’t productive. Teacher’s expectations can make it worse, too. If they don’t think you’re going to do well, they might not be willing to challenge you or won’t take you seriously. Then, school becomes a vicious cycle of defeat.

        The same goes for being black in America. The media paints you as a criminal, so you might even begin to see yourself that way. Even if you do overcome that, the authorities see you that way, too. The outcome? A tragedy like Mike Brown’s case. The problem isn’t that the police officer that shot him hated black people, it’s that he works in a country that doesn’t break down the racism that’s instilled in the system. It’s the worst combination of circumstances; a subconscious judgement based off the stereotypes the media hurls at us non stop and a gun.

        We can’t change what happened to Mike Brown, or Trayvon Martin, or the mass amount of people of color who have suffered from racism in the U.S. With proper education and the ability to stop and think about the real reason someone is doing something, though, we can start to take on the monster-sized problem that causes these tragedies. Latin has already taken a few steps towards that. Last year, a new segment was added to the required wellness curriculum we all take freshman year. It focused on social justice and equality, giving students the chance to learn and talk about issues that are normally swept under the rug. Over the summer, the admissions team was diversified and a position was added for the sole purpose of finding underrepresented students to apply to Latin. There is also a new Diversity Council whose members are not decided by personality, but by their position at the school. All of these additions institutionalize Latin’s anti-racism movement and make it just as powerful as what they’re fighting.

        It’s not an easy time for America. We’re facing huge issues that scare most of us away, but as Mr. Schneider so eloquently and inspiringly said at the end of our meeting:

“You guys are the future. You’re going to be the ones who change things in the world. So maybe we can’t fix what happened in Ferguson or wherever right now, but I hope that you guys are going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”]]>