something that’s not about vegetables or gardens

I started this blog about 18 months ago to have an outlet to write about the things I’m passionate about – the things that I wish filled my days instead of only just whatever free time I can manage to devote to it. So most of the time, it’s gardens and urban farming, CSAs and food justice. Backyard chickens and canning jars – the stuff that’s in my profile.

But I’ve tried this week to think about what the next thing was I should write about. And every time I try to find the words, I keep coming back to Ferguson. It’s a hurdle my mind can’t leap over right now. I don’t want to hide behind “but I just write about vegetables.”

So if you’re here for vegetables and gardens, check in with me Thursday. Today I just need to write something else.

I watch as people across the country film themselves dumping ice on their heads to “raise awareness” for ALS, learning really only about what people look like when they dump a bucket of ice water on their heads. Yes, yes, they’ve raised some money for research, and it’s a horrendous disease and a good cause. But while the nation distracts itself with a viral video craze, Ferguson is self-destructing. 

Maybe we can’t bear to look at what’s happening in Ferguson because it shines too much of a spotlight on our own fear and ignorance. It’s easy to support things like research for diseases. It’s much harder to look at the photos and videos of what’s happening in Ferguson and have to face the fact that racism is a cancer that has had a grip on America since before it was America. Where are the ice bucket videos for that disease?

How many more black men and women must die at the hands of militant law enforcement officers who shoot first and ask questions later? Do you remember the story of Renisha McBride, who was shot and killed for walking up onto someone’s porch? If I walked onto a neighbor’s porch, someone would assume I was bringing zucchini or asking if they’d move their car. Surely in a country founded on the principles of freedom and justice for all, the freedom to walk up to a door, unarmed and knock, should be upheld.

There are many studies that support the fact that black people are disproportionately targeted by the justice system and law enforcement. Better and more qualified voices than mine have spoken those words. Lots of data, lots of facts. 

But beyond the hard numbers, we know in our hearts that if Michael Brown had been a white woman like me, he would still be alive. He died in a street in Missouri that could be any street. Mine, for instance. Yours. 

There are so many things to say. About freedom of the press and freedom to gather in peaceful protect. About the militarization of police and the danger of focusing on a handful of looters. It’s easy to feel like I shouldn’t have a voice in this because I’m white and would honestly answer no, if asked if I was racist. 

But that just won’t do. If you’re an American and a human, you should have something to say about this. Some examining to do. I’m not convinced that any one of us has the right to say “I’m not racist” because racist assumptions are ingrained in our culture so deeply that we don’t even realize we’re part of them and that we perpetuate them. 

I work in a predominantly black neighborhood and I’ve heard many people make jokes about the surroundings – you know, “those” people always hanging out in the park. With the unspoken wink. Why have I let those comments have a voice and kept my own silent? Just using the phrase “those people” means we’ve crossed the line. And that’s just one example. We let so much go by us without saying a word.

We can tweet about Ferguson and pass around links to the news, and that’s a good thing. We need to be reading and understanding what’s going on and thinking about the concept of systemic racism and how we got to this place. We need to hold our leaders accountable. We need to support the journalists there and press for the truth – not cable news spin. After all, knowledge dispels ignorance.

Think about how your words contribute to a larger dialogue in this country. When you hear someone making office cooler commentary, turn inward and reach for your empathy. Don’t hide behind your skin color – find your voice in those moments and speak. For the people in Ferguson and for all of us. 

  • Michelle

    Thank you for writing this. I have been railing about the same thing – the publicity surrounding the ALS challenge is wonderful, but it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. The attention of the American public is a very fickle thing. I believe that you’re right when you say we hide behind our own fears and insecurities instead of using our voices to shine the light on blatant injustice. I live and work in Homestead – when people talk to me about my community it seems to be constantly through the lens of stereotypes, generalizations, and just straight-up racist comments. WE are a community, WE are an American people, and WE are all in this together as a human race. Consistently focusing on the “otherness” of the problem is not solution-oriented at all. So again, thank you for using your voice.

  • Ber

    This was a great post, especially considering how terrifying the situation in MO is and how that could really be any American city. Human Rights are so important and when they are violated the whole premise of our country is jeapordized.