On a college campus as vast and diverse as Stony Brook’s, it is no wonder that we are constantly engulfed in waves of endless chatter. Whether it be in the middle of North Reading Room or dining among fellow Seawolves at the SAC, conversation is the backbone of each and every one of our days.
And yet, in her stirring visit to Stony Brook University this past Monday, award winning journalist Soledad O’Brien brought the content of our conversation to the forefront of discussion at the Staller Center as part of her Black in America Tour. In a press conference prior to the start of her show, O’Brien reminded student journalists that their goal as college students should be to open up their minds and engage in conversations that make them feel uncomfortable.
The notion of conversation seemed to be the theme of the night. The tagline of the newest segment, entitled “Black and Blue,” called to attention police brutality in minority communities and was stated as “I Am The Conversation.”
As the discourse progressed throughout the evening between O’Brien and a group of three other panelists, which included former NBA star Etan Thomas, activist in the Black Lives Matter movement, Luis Paulino and journalist Joan Morgan, revelations about the plight of African Americans began to surface, as did numerous other questions about the matter. This is where I realized that although O’Brien’s “conversation” mostly focused on African American issues, there are other conversations that society as a whole needs to be having about every type of person.
Obviously, the key players in issues facing blacks and Latinos in minority communities are blacks and Latinos. However, one of the questions raised in my mind was where exactly my position in the discussion was. I do not feel that I am alone in the intermediate phase between “the conversation” and “the other.” I often view myself as being isolated from discussions about minority issues. Despite feeling heartfelt sympathy for the families of Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin, two innocent African Americans who lost their lives to senseless violence, the depth of my sadness and the breadth of a heavy heart can never communicate to the African American community that I understand.
I understand not necessarily because I have lost a loved one to racially-fueled violence or even because our skin color is the same. I understand because I am a human being. And on that level, I do understand the struggle of fitting in, of feeling compassion for a slain soul, of grappling with loneliness and discouragement and misunderstanding. I understand being judged before being given the chance to prove myself. I understand the feeling of resentment towards those who cannot empathize with my plight.
I understand because I am human. We all are. And at the basis of all of our struggles are the core moral values and principles that do not make us very different at all.
Through conversation, my understanding can be made evident. Though I am not African American, I can sympathize. I do have something to offer, whether it be support or an ear to lend to the Lives Matter movement.
Former NBA player Etan Thomas mentioned in his speech that parents constantly have to engage in discussions or “the talk” with their children about how to behave if a police officer were to approach them. They must never move suddenly. They should always converse with the officer courteously. They should make all intentions plain and clear when reaching into a back pocket, slowly and clearly state, “I am now reaching for my ID.” Then reach for it slowly.
The sad reality of this was conveyed with gravity, but also a sense of masked vexation against law enforcement for being part of what many African Americans see as institutional racism.
Although it is undeniable that police brutality against minorities does exist, it is a fact that is being hammered into the fabric of African American youth, with fewer acknowledgements given to the fact that the majority of law enforcement is there to protect everyone.
Instead of fueling hatred towards law enforcement, both sides, the black and the blue, need to understand one another’s sentiments in order to begin fostering better relations.
But just as officers need to be aware of the uncomfortable conversation that African American parents need to have with youths, African American parents and youths need to be mindful that the parents of trainees of the NYPD also have to have uncomfortable conversations with their children as well.
Established NYPD officers also need to keep their young officers aware of the stigma rising against themselves and remind them constantly to be even more diligent and cautious when dealing with minority suspects. The point of the plight is not to debate who has it worse, but to accept that everyone is fighting against stigmas and strifes.
These are only a few of the conversations that fall under the umbrella of the Lives Matter movement. It is a conversation that every single member of society needs to be a part of, and it needs to be one that is approached with willingness and, above all, understanding.
We may not always agree, but it is important to be engaged no matter how uncomfortable or ugly the reality of these murky issues may seem. We are obligated as a community as diverse as our own to forge forward in order to break barriers against racial oppression through discourse and through listening.