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  • Be An Ally: Read in Peace Today For Michael Brown And The People of Ferguson, Missouri
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Be An Ally: Read in Peace Today For Michael Brown And The People of Ferguson, Missouri
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
August 2014
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
August 2014

A week and a half ago, I was reading Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" to my boys, and came across this passage about the barbaric "order" of medieval life, which boiled down to who could kill whom with impunity. 

"A master might kill his slave for nothing: for mere spite, malice, or to pass the time--just as we have seen that the crowned head could do it with his slave, that is to say, with anybody. A gentleman could kill a free commoner, and pay for him--cash or garden-truck. A noble could kill a noble without expense, as far as the law was concerned, but reprisals in kind were to be expected. Anybody could kill somebody, except the commoner and the slave; these had no privileges. If they killed, it was murder, and the law wouldn't stand murder. It made short work of the experimenter--and of his family, too, if he murdered somebody who belonged up among the ornamental ranks. If a commoner gave a noble even so much as a Damiens-scratch which didn't kill or even hurt, he got Damiens's dose for it just the same."

It stopped me cold. "Boys," I said,"this is happening in our country, right now." We went on to talk about Michael Brown's death and what was happening in Ferguson (a pack of cigarellos, Damien's Scratch indeed), and Eric Gardner's choking by a police officer on Staten Island (the crime was selling loose cigarettes that time). It is tragic, shameful, and an outrage, but the truth is that in this country, and all around the world, some lives are given more value than others. Racism is not an attitude held by aberrant individuals, it is a system that ensures a disproportionate amount of resources and privilege go to members of a particular race. (Jen Wang, thank you for pointing me to the excellent article by Robin DiAngelo in the Seattle Times about the roots of racial illiteracy and how whites can become more racially literate.) As a white woman in America, I will never know what it is like to endure it every single day, but as the founder of this community, I can condemn it and ally myself with those who suffer from it. So I'm here to extend my sympathy, shared anger, and commitment to change with all our members. I'd also like to suggest an action, albeit a small one in the face of all this pain, we might take together. 

Predictably, perhaps, I suggest we read. Michael Brown's father asked for peace and silence today in memory of his son. I can think of no better way to be silent, and to pray for peace, than to immerse myself in the stories of those whose voices, stories and lives are so often devalued, ignored and treated as "other" in this country. First I plan to read Jesmyn Ward's "Men We Reaped," and would love if others of you would read with me--let me know if you plan to. I also plan to read Martha Southgate's "Third Girl From the Left," a book that has been on my list for awhile, a multigenerational tale of the loves and ambitions of mothers and daughters. I'm looking forward to both.

Please leave your thoughts here. And if you like the idea of reading as a way to cope with the pain of recent weeks, share with me what's on your list.

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  • I know you are right SomerEmpress--we need to speak out, often and with conviction. For me reading also helps me to step outside my own world, and self, and fully empathetically immerse myself in the worlds of my fellow human beings, so I can do it better. Thanks for the sharing what you are reading, too, Veronica Marie.

  • Avril Somerville

    I hope we all do this... more. First, hats off to you, for a courageous approach to a delicate subject.  

    Sadly enough, there are many who claim that the protests and responses to Michael Brown's murder in Ferguson is much ado about nothing and overblown; that what is happening in Ferguson is too much of spectacle; sheds too much of a spotlight on racism, as if we ever lived in a post-racial era.  Those, coupled with all of us, would do well to read more about those who suffer from the institutionalization of race as a premise for privilege and access.  

    I too, want peace, but I'm afraid we can not afford much silence. Stillness, however, which might come as a result of contemplative reading and further introspection, is to be appreciated if only it allows us to more solidly define our roles and carve our responsibilities in potential solutions.

    I will continue to read Toni Morrison's "What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction", and revisit the works of James Baldwin.  Their sage wisdom, insight, and analysis - even at their most creative, fictional writing personas - is brilliant, courageous, and timeless.   

  • I am re-reading Darlenne Susan Girard's 'freefalling', a story about people we see every day... but we don't really see.  People we ignore and marginalize and grant less rights to than we have... that we demand for ourselves but deem these girls unworthy of those rights because we mistake their circumstances as of their own choosing and therefore not worthy of 'polite' society.

    freefalling is a reminder that it takes only one 'turn'... one tiny thing, perhaps... to turn any one of 'us' into one of 'them'.

    The unseen... the forgotten... the fallen... and the falling.

  • Thanks for that, Barbara -- I love the idea of meditation. Sherrey please let me know what you think. @Carol I am not familiar with those Toni Morrison titles, thanks for sharing that. And @Angelina obviously I agree, reading is a great way to connect with the wider world, and learn empathy. I loved the study that showed that reading fiction was correlated to a higher degree of empathy.

  • Barbara Stark-Nemon

    I will be re-reading Dan Harris's 10% Happier, with its focus on meditating as a way of reducing stress, quieting the mind's monkey chatter, and becoming a better person. I will also share my gratitude for another day that my son serving in the military doing law enforcement and search and rescue returns safely to his wife and two children. There are so many important narratives in the tragic events in Ferguson. I'm trying to listen for all of them, and pray that the best of who we are as a society brings real justice to light.

  • Sherrey Meyer

    Kamy, I'll join you in reading the two books you suggest. I've just requested them from my local library. BTW, I appreciate your post. Growing up in Civil Rights Era in TN in the 1960s, I have watched and hoped for the equality of people all across our country. Today when I go back to TN (live in OR now) I can feel the oppression hanging in the aira, and when I watch incidents such as the one in Ferguson, I sense we haven't come so very far. Reading is a good antidote to what we've been exposed to recently.

  • Anne Robertson

    I'm tired of cries of RACISM being used to silence people.   I can't believe what this nation has become, a nation of cowards afraid to make any claim that a black thug is responsible for his own death.   The officer may have fired the gun but the GENTLE GIANT killed himself.

  • Anne Robertson

    So you no longer believe in due process?  When did this country's justice system get replaced by an angry mob?  There is one person who set in motion the events leading to his death and that is himself.  My opinion I guess is not very PC but I like truth and despise political correctness - don't bother calling me a racist unless you mean to say anyone with an opinion that differs from your own self-righteous sanctimony is a liar.   This country which even a few years ago was the bastion of freedom of speech but no longer.   Eventually the damage your politically correctness is doing will bite you too.   How dare you try to usurp the power and prestige of the Courts for your own.

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    I like this idea, though I am working on curriculum for 2 classes I am leading in the fall, I would love to keep in touch and jump into the discussion after the holidays.

  • Gayle Pruitt

    Kamy, What you say is of course indeed true, yet there is much more to the story than  racism. What  bothers me is the officers mindset of abuse. They kill dogs, mentally challenged, and of course African American men mostly, because they can get away with it. 

    Sociopaths are attracted to positions in which they are able to assert authority over others, so it should come as no surprise that there are higher concentrations of sociopaths within law enforcement.

    Law Enforcement officers beat their significant other at nearly double the national average. Several studies, according to Diane Wetendorf, author of Police Domestic Violence: Handbook for Victims, indicate that women suffer domestic abuse in at least 40 percent of police officer families. For American women overall, the figure is 25 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    According to The Advocates for Human Rights Organization, studies indicate that police families are 2-4 times more likely than the general population to experience domestic violence, making the potential for disparities in protective success particularly troubling.

  • Angelina Perri Birney

    This is a great idea. People can find out so much through reading - both fiction and non-fiction - that tells us about different groups of people and the injustices they face.

  • Carol Merchasin

    Yes, a wonderful way both to cope and expand our thinking.  At the top of my list are Alice Walker's Possessing the Secret of Joy and Now is the Time to Open your Heart.  

  • Thank you Zetta, that's a great suggestion...

  • Zetta Brown

    Very eloquently put, Kamy, and "I Still Dream of You" by Fannie Flagg is at the top of my reading list. When I'm feeling depressed or uptight, reading a book written by an excellent storyteller inspires me out of my funk.