Thursday at 7 p.m., thousands of Americans gathered together at vigils in memory of Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO and the other people who have lost their lives in incidents of police brutality. As those crowds drew together to observe a moment of silence, my family talked.
While I stirred a pot of chicken and broccoli on the stove and my brand new high-schooler set the table, I asked her, “Is anyone at your school talking about Ferguson, Missouri?”
She wrinkled up her brows and said, “What, like the court case? I thought that was in Kansas.” She thought I was talking about Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, KS. That’s what they study in school when it’s time to talk about racial equality–the Supreme Court case the ended school segregation. Yeah, we need to talk.
We put the casserole on the table at 6:40. We talked about the usual things–the football scrimmage on Friday night, Vivi’s library time today. Carlos refused to eat and asked for goldfish, smoothie, oyster crackers, fruit snacks. Each time, I told him “No, we’re having chicken and noodles,” and pointed to his plate. He refused. Vivi finished up and asked to be excused at 6:58. I watched the grandfather clock that their white grandfather made for them and pondered whether I should bring up the moment of silence.
Here’s the way I saw it: a moment of silence helps us focus in stillness when we have been caught up in the noise. But in my life, there hasn’t been enough noise. I watch the killing of unarmed black men from the safety of my America, from a world where #MikeBrown is not trending. I have to go out looking for the fury because it’s not outside my dining room window. So we switched things up and paid our respects to Ferguson and the Brown family by talking during the moment of silence.
My kid surprised me. She talked about how race issues show up at her school, self-segregation in the cafeteria, linguistic shifts among different social groups, how there are kids she met once who have died in gun violence. She talked and we listened. We talked and she listened. We talked about what her life is like now that she identifies as a Latina. We talked about the ghetto of privilege that she has grown up in, where everyone has a PhD and a Prius. We talked about diversity of more than color–diversity of opportunity, language, culture.
She–SHE!–brought up John Locke and the AP Government project she’s working on. It’s about the Bill of Rights, so we talked about amendments that granted personhood to former slaves, women’s suffrage, how amendments get passed, why “equal protection under law” is still something that we are working towards. We sat at our table and talked about the Age of Enlightenment and how the idea of individual rights evolved. This is the kid who would rather watch grass grow than read a book, but she was TALKING about John Locke.
At 7:30, G, our girl, and I rose from the table and started cleaning up. We didn’t solve anything. But we started talking during the moment of silence and I feel like it was the right thing to do. We talked about the history that came before us and the history that we’re living through right now.