Thanksgiving week for the nation got off to a bad start with the violence on Monday night in Ferguson, Mo.
The burning and looting of businesses and more than 60 arrests followed the long-anticipated decision of a state grand jury not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Rallies and protests have been a regular occurrence in the St. Louis suburb after Brown’s death.
Protests Monday also occurred in New York; Washington, D.C.; Denver; Chicago; Oakland, Calif.; Philadelphia; and Seattle. People gathered to express outrage because the slaying fits a recurring American narrative — white police officer kills an unarmed black man. It’s what African American parents fear and caution children on dos and don’ts in confrontations with police and other authority figures.
Often, “the talk” is the only protection against horrible outcomes. People thought the civil rights movement and even the election of Barack Obama as the first black president would enable America to thankfully extend all of its constitutional rights and ideals to citizens of color.
A lot of progress has occurred, but the anger and violent eruption in Ferguson shows the hope for an inclusive America is still a dream. Voter suppression and racial profiling remain problems, schools and communities are grossly segregated and unequal, and black joblessness is twice the national average.
Speakers at this month’s National Association for Multicultural Education convention in Tucson, Ariz., offered insight, which the nation should feast on this Thanksgiving and then work together to forge into meaningful change.
Drawing from the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, Maria E. Fránquiz said the U.S. is experiencing “Nepantla,” which means in between. We are traveling from one identity to another — from a Eurocentric-dominated nation to one increasingly multiethnic, multinational and racially diverse.
“The world is in a constant state of Nepantla,” said Fránquiz, dean of the University of Utah’s College of Education. Schools and teachers have to provide safe passage so all “border crossers“ can lead productive, peaceful, inclusive lives.
Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, professor of Indigenous Education and Justice at Arizona State University, also told hundreds of educators what people in Ferguson and the nation need to hear.
“Justice is a long-term project,” Brayboy said. “Change has to be systematic and ongoing. We have to change the way we think. A path to justice can be created from unjust places.”
The Justice Department is continuing its civil rights investigation into Brown’s death and a separate probe of the Ferguson Police Department. With unity and the right focus, Brown’s death can lead to a better America.
But the change must be nonviolent. Anger, frustration and violence erupt when people confuse equity with equality, Brayboy said. Equity is about fairness and justice, which is what people for Brown want.
Equality is about sameness. It fails to acknowledge the hierarchy in society.
“People want to hide behind equality,” Brayboy said. “It means some get more.”
What is legal and just are not the same, he said. Slavery and segregation were once legal in the United States, but neither was ever just. It’s comfortable for some and horrific for others.
“Such injustice operates under the veil of order and equality,” Brayboy said. “Injustice allows things to happen without question.”
K. Wayne Yang, assistant professor of youth culture and pedagogy in the emergence of social movements at the University of California-San Diego, urged people to think creatively and become “fluent in others’ struggles” to overcome the ghosts of the past.
For better Thanksgivings in America, we must do the hard work without violence.