Commentary: Let’s set a few ground rules as we talk about race

Let’s start by recognizing our biases, reaching out to form friendships and educating ourselves.

By April Berg / For The Herald

Every suburban parent of black children I know has a set of rules. They aren’t always the same, but include variations on the same themes: Never walk alone, and don’t ever run unless you are part of an organized athletic activity. No overnights at a friend’s house unless we know more about their neighbors, grandparents or community generally. Never call an adult by their first name, no matter how familiar they are to you. Don’t dress in a manner that makes you stand out; you already stand out enough.

Over the past two weeks America has had the most intense conversations on race, racism and the structural underpinnings of inequity I’ve seen in my lifetime. These long overdue dialogues in our streets, living rooms and hearts will create positive change, but only if we take advantage of the opportunity to listen, learn and translate the rage, empathy and passions of the moment into real reforms.

These discussions include the underpinnings of being “Black in the ‘burbs” and the proscriptive and often dissonant lessons we teach our kids, reinforce in our schools and reflect in our broader communities.

I was raised in a diverse neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago where both the promise and prejudice of American society were on full display. I moved to the Northwest like so many young people seeking education and opportunity, clean air and a fresh start. I came to Snohomish County more than 20 years ago to raise my family, now a blended group of black, white and bi-racial kids with different life experiences and different societal expectations.

My commitment to equality for all kids was the motivation to seek election to the Everett School Board where I’ve seen that the structures we’ve set up for educational success are not working for the kids they were meant to support. For many black and brown kids this translates to the kinds of disparities parents agonize over, and young people are demanding we address.

To make real progress we need to stop pretending that disparate treatment, inequities and bias will result in identical outcomes or a level playing field. Disruption and questioning are how we adapt, grow and change for the better: in our jobs, in technology and medicine and in society.

Lasting change begins with a common vocabulary to talk about race. We need to overhaul biased structures — not just in policing — but in our schools, workplaces and communities. We need safe places to talk, learn and listen to one another.

To that end, I propose some new “rules” that I hope will inspire the kind of change we seek and that with hard work can replace the old ones we tell our kids, including:

• We must check our own biases and assumptions and ask questions like: “What would you do if that was your own kid doing (blank)?” Such as running from a convenience store, wearing a hoody on a dark sidewalk, simply riding a bike, alone, on a cul-de-sac.

• Invite different people into our lives and form friendships versus acquaintances. Turn off social media and tune in to the people around us. I can almost guarantee that they are a whole lot nicer than the folks on Twitter.

• Don’t expect the black folks in your life to educate. That’s not their job (it’s tough enough already). Instead, seek out resources and information that help build a common language and appreciation of both the history that led us to this inflection point; and the opportunity to make lasting, positive change.

As we mourn the death of George Floyd and so many other black lives, I am both humbled and inspired by the outpouring of support — and self-reflection — taking place in communities across our state and country. Regardless of where we live and who we are, we all have a role to play in making this important moment something we — and our kids — will be proud of in the future.

April Berg serves on the Everett School Board. She lives in Mill Creek.

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