Pin It
Saturday, November 29th, 2014

What I Can Do as a White Mom After Darren Wilson’s Acquittal

By
What I Can Do as a White Mom After Darren Wilson’s Acquittal © flickr

As a white mom of two biracial daughters and a kindergarten teacher devoted to teaching my students how to recognize and combat racism, I am devastated by Darren Wilson’s acquittal.  I struggle to find the words to describe this event to my older daughter, whose immediate response over dinner last night was, “I’m not sure I want to say this in front of you, but…white police officers are bad.”  She looked at me questioningly, watching my reaction.

 

There were many things I immediately wanted to say, including, “This was an unjust case, and there are many fair and just police officers of all races.” And I found myself wanting to know more about why she wouldn’t want to say this in front of me, and what this says about her perception of my comfort level in talking about racism. That led me to wonder how comfortable I really am with it, but, for a moment, I sat there and thought about Darren Wilson.  I thought about the testimony he gave to the grand jury, released after his acquittal, in which he describes Michael Brown as a “demon,” with an “intense, aggressive face.”

 

I wondered, sitting at a quiet restaurant facing my nine-year-old daughter, how much Wilson’s description of Brown influenced the jury’s decision—more than the witnesses who testified that Brown had his hands in the hair and was trying to surrender when he was shot. How much did Darren Wilson’s bestial, demon-like portrait of the man he killed contribute to his acquittal?

 

Wilson’s testimony depicts a beast charging at him.  When describing grabbing Brown, he says he felt like a “five year old holding on to Hulk Hogan.”  He says Brown made animal-like sounds, “grunting”, and “looking right through” him.  Wilson frequently describes Brown as aggressive and overpowering even though, in reality, Wilson and Brown are the same height, and, Wilson was the one with the “lethal option”—the gun.

 

Wilson had to prove his innocence to the jury in light of the fact that he was the one with the weapon, that, in truth, he had other, non-lethal options, including a baton, flashlight, and mace.   In an attempt to prove his innocence despite these facts, Wilson reaches back in our history (not too far, only as far as the killing of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and many others) to the tired but true American tradition – of viewing whiteness as innocent and vulnerable and blackness as scary and overpowering.  In this narrative, even white police officers with guns who won’t carry tasers because they are “uncomfortable”, are somehow more innocent and human than the unarmed black men they pursue.  This is a powerful narrative as it appeals to a collective desire to justify needless acts of murder and inhumane treatment that date back to slavery and continue today.

 

Each of Wilson’s descriptions contribute to an overall image of Brown as inhuman, and, in this animal-like state, incapable of acting in such a way that would call for humane treatment.  Wilson’s depiction of Brown is about the inevitability of his murder; it’s about a scared white man being charged by a big black beast and the only thing to do when being attacked by a beast, even when the beast is retreating, is to strike it down, and kill it. The jury accepts this narrative and finds him innocent. The sad and tragic truth is the dehumanization of Michael Brown worked.

 

Tonight, over another quiet dinner, this time at home, my daughter asked me, “Why won’t the police officer go to jail?”  How do I explain this to my daughter? How do I explain racism that does not come in the form of explicit laws and overt, blatant prejudice?  How do I talk to her about an inherently racist justice system, that rears its ugly head in places like Ferguson, where the white prosecutor, with deep ties to the town’s majority white police force, may have had more invested in proving Wilson’s innocence than in proving the necessity of an indictment? “It’s not fair,” I managed. She nodded and added, in between bites of spaghetti, “We need to do something about that.”

 

I feel compelled to take my daughters with me to protests, to take to the streets in support of people who are feeling this verdict on a much deeper level than I am. I want to put my lesson plans on pause and spend the next several weeks exploring issues around racism and empathy with my students. I want to evaluate my classroom library and curriculum content to ensure it is rich with characters and content of all races. I want to have explicit conversations with my daughters and students about the necessity of recognizing the humanity in one another, and especially, the importance of fighting injustice and racism whenever we see it.

© 2014, Madeleine Rogin. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


All I Want for Christmas is Perfectly Bilingual Children

Why OPOL has been harder than we thought.

Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan

Colleague drank your breast milk from the work fridge again? Tales of breastfeeding in Mongolia

Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs?

Fancy schools, international vacations, foreign language books, DVDs and tutors add up fast

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


A Change Leader for Ashoka’s “Start Empathy” Initiative and Changemaker Schools Network, Madeleine Rogin has been an educator of young children for the past 13 years. She currently teaches Kindergarten and Dance at Prospect Sierra School in El Cerrito, CA. In addition to teaching, Madeleine serves as the Diversity and Inclusion Representative for the Elementary School at Prospect Sierra and recently delivered a talk on “Teaching About Martin Luther King, Jr. in Kindergarten” at the National People of Color Conference. She received a BA from The New School in Urban Education and Writing and an MA in Dance from the University of New Mexico with a focus on African Dance. Madeleine can be reached at madeleine@prospectsierra.org.

Leave us a comment!

2 Comments
  1. CommentsBrandon   |  Sunday, 30 November 2014 at 5:46 am

    I think you should also talk to your kids about the danger of a monopoly of violence. While racism is a problem, what got Darren wilson off was his legal impunity from being a police officer. Had a KKK member done the same thing, even with the same reasoning, they’d already be in jail.

  2. Commentscate   |  Thursday, 21 April 2016 at 4:08 am

    How to teach our children, daughters in particular, how to live not as a victim in a world where they are victims? Sigh…. we so much want them to live in the santa clause and tooth faery and idealized justice system world, where they are safe and all is fair. Explaining injustice to a child is like telling them there is no santa.

    With my child I would carefully study the trial, read transcripts if possible, try to understand the legal process as much as possible, making sure that our judgement of the defandant as a guilty person set free is not itself a prejudicial injustice. Being swayed by other people’s ajendas, media hype, half truths is allowing yourself to be victimized. Education, learning the truth is a way to fight back. Once you can approach the decision the jury made from an educated position, who knows, perhaps the child will already be feeling less vulnerable–regardless of the conclusion she comes to about the outcome. I know next to nothing about this particular trial, but enough to know that either way, we have work to do as a culture and our children are our hope. A child taught to make highly educated decisions (don’t count on our educational instutions to teach them this skill) is empowering and enligtening and is by its nature unprejudicial. There’s power and hope for change in that! :)









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
For quite sometime, whenever there were articles that surfaced the internet concerning whether it was appropriate to breastfeed in public, I was so baffled. As a Mongolian, I was so shocked that som...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
For quite some whenever there was articles circulated on the internet concerning whether it is appropriate to breastfeed in public. As a Mongolian, I was so shocked that some countries considered i...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
I live with my Czech in laws with my four children and my Czech is crap I try to learn but the baby doesn't sleep well I'm a constant zombie and the brain just doesn't work. Plus being tired makes m...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
I am so glad I found this site. I am happy to see that I am not alone in experiencing 'family issues' after getting married. I am not from the West but I am married to a Canadian. I never truly unde...
From How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law
[…] my most favourite article about breastfeeding called Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan by Ruth Kamnitzer. I have no doubt that Mongolians would find our social stigmas around [R...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
[…] sources and reasons for the rules of these countries too, such as China, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, and Hungary (see above re “Titanic”).  Has anyone got s...
From International Baby Naming Laws–Are They a Good Thing?
[…] Source Inculture Parents […...
From Lotus Lanterns for Wesak (Buddha Day)
If your nerves shat down your hormones , can you get pregnant by injecting a sperm in you to develop a baby . Please let me know...
From Baby-Making the Hindu Way
[…] Diwali Lantern from InCultureParent […...
From Diwali Craft: Make a Lantern

More Global Parenting