Race Conversations In School After Ferguson

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The story of the shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri in August has become a topic of conversation among many Atlanta teens as the case remains in court. For Youth Radio’s Gilbert Young, it has led to some painful realizations about his peers.

By: Gilbert Young

It seemed only natural that the discussion about the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown would carry over into my school, even in the months after his death. My school is full of social media addicts. We followed the story avidly.

Then one day, my debate coach spent a whole class hour devoted to discussion about Ferguson. It was not long until one of my white peers asked,

“Why is this particular shooting national news?”

A fair enough question. But I remained silent. As one of three black kids in the class, I didn’t want to seem too eager to answer. I merely leaned back and another one of my peers, also white, responded saying it’s because bad cops get all the publicity.

A few more comments along the same lines followed.

I sat back, but I didn’t chime in. The fact that my classmates didn’t address race made it apparent to me that they didn’t understand.

I’ve experienced firsthand the anxiety that comes from being black in America. I’ve been followed by the police. I have been asked to leave school premises after hours, even though I’m no security threat. I’ve even had a group of white girls run from me and my black friends at a mall as if we were criminals.

Trayvon Martin, Kendrec McDade, Kimani Gray, Ervin Jefferson, Victor Steen, Sean Bell.

All of these names are well known to me, my black friends, and especially the parents in our community. Their deaths are tragic reminders to me, and any other young black male, that simply the suspicion of being dangerous can lead to your death.

My black friends and I never talk about Ferguson because it can be summed up in one sentence.

A black teen was shot and there is nothing we can do about it.

Or is there?

The national outcry over Brown’s death feels to me like the first time the black community is actually doing something about these repetitive and racially charged killings.

The rage against this killing compels us to have these conversations on race in America. My white peers shouldn’t waste this opportunity, and that goes double for my black peers. We need to talk about it. At home, at school, and everywhere else.

The riots in Ferguson made me and other black people feel strong. They made us feel heard. The news coverage in Ferguson forces people to, at least for one second listen to us!

And yet in that debate class, at that one moment, I foolishly chose to say nothing.

For a version of this commentary that aired on KCBS, listen below.

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