In this excellent TED Talk, Baratunde Thurston masterfully uses sentence structure to discuss racism using headlines many of us are familiar with. I am definitely planning to use it in my English classes. Thurston strikes a balance between humor and seriousness. He masterfully draws the line between lynching to calling the police on Black people simply trying to live their lives.
I have a friend who is a police officer. She is Worcester Police Department’s LGBTQ Liaison Officer. Her story is not mine to tell (though it’s pretty amazing), but as this article indicates, she is involved in the LGBTQ community. She visited my Social Justice class in January to talk about her experiences. My students loved her and later said her visit was one of their favorite lessons of the year. One of my students asked her a great question. He asked her what she did if she had to enforce laws she didn’t agree with. Sharon talked about discretion. As a police officer, if she is doing traffic detail, she has discretion over whether or not to issue a ticket or a warning. If she stops someone for speeding, for example, she takes into account the situation, the relative danger of the person’s speed, the location (school zone or not), and many other factors. And she also has the discretion not to pull someone over at all for something trivial. So she doesn’t.
My big takeaway from both Thurston’s TED Talk and from my friend Sharon is discretion. Thurston says we have the choice of “minding [our] own damn business.” We can use our discretion for good or for ill, but the actions we choose have consequences, and those consequences are not the same for all people. This is because of structural, system inequities due to deep-seated racism.
I love how Thurston asks us to flip the script near the end. What if we changed the action from “calling the police” to something that makes more sense in the circumstances? I connect this idea to listening to someone’s story. Each of the headlines Thurston shares tells someone’s story. I know some people might think it’s a cliché, but I think it’s hard to hate someone once you know their story. In fact, learning someone’s story might change your entire understanding, maybe even your entire life.
If we saw each other simply as fellow human beings just trying to live our lives, what could change? When we dehumanize others, it’s easier to discard their lives. We do it a lot in this country. It needs to stop. We can contribute if we use our discretion and maybe listen to each other’s stories. I’m grateful to Baratunde Thurston for sharing his in this TED Talk.
This post is part of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge ©.