How can we build the future that we want and a community that works for us all if we don’t know each other, our history, and what we are going through today? I believe that we can’t; that’s why I am committed to hearing others’ experiences and sharing my own.
In that spirit, I recently wrote an opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News (February 28, 2020 Opinion) discussing a racist attack that my wife and I endured. We need to bring these everyday experiences into the light so we can make informed decisions on how to comport ourselves, vote, care for each other, and structure and reform our public systems.
When I was a kid growing up in Palo Alto, experiences of racism and discrimination — big and small — were everyday occurrences. Like when I told people I lived in Palo Alto, they assumed I meant East Palo Alto. Or when my brother was called the “n” word and got into a fight at school, the principal suspended him, but not the white kid who started it. Or how when I was in second grade a teacher sent a white friend and me to the store to get candy for the class, and the store manager accused us of stealing it. He called my parents but they were at work, so he let my friend go but kept me there and threatened to call the police. After the teacher came and vouched for me, the manager let me go but he didn’t apologize; instead, he told me never to come back to the store.
Experiences like these that I suffered as a child, and the one my wife and I had just a few months ago, are extensions of a long history of racist oppression, much of it carried out through government institutions and validated by public policies. This information wasn’t taught in our schools when I was growing up, and most of it is not in our history books. Hopefully, now we are doing a bit better, recognizing the value of hearing diverse voices and experiences, knowing that we impoverish ourselves when we fail to adequately recognize the positive contributions of African Americans and the destructive effects of racial oppression.
Unfortunately, progress is not an unbroken line. We have definitely made strides since I was a kid, but the last several years have seen a rise in overt racism and willful ignorance of the harm caused by these beliefs and actions. We need to keep fighting to raise awareness and understanding of our diverse stories and experiences. A greater awareness would lead to empathy and understanding, which I believe would lead to healing and spur the development of more effective policies and programs.
It is my hope and belief that someday we will be successful in building deep understanding of our history and experiences and ridding our systems of racist biases and policies. People of color will no longer be overrepresented in our foster care system, our criminal justice system, and our homeless services system, and we will have equality and fairness for every child. We can create this future together!