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Systemic Racism: A Serious Disease

By       Message carrie vance     Permalink
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While white Cambridge Police Officer Sgt. Crowley teaches classes on profiling, his surprise at Prof. Gates agitation belies a lack of the gut understanding of what it feels like. His approach speaks of a mechanical one hatched out of P.C., rather than what it actually means to be Black in America. While there's been a gradual advance in understanding the nature of institutionalracism, our news reports are replete with the drumbeat of misunderstandings, even death, because we keep sliding over what's behind it: something much deeper, denied only to pop out and catch us in another maelstrom, something systemic yet to be rooted out of the American psyche.

We've trashed the real meaning of empathy. An empathic person is one who can imagine themselves in someone else's shoes, even when they disagree with that person or don't understand what they've done. How do you teach constructive empathy?

Can empathy root out the systemic racism that operates, often to our dismay, on an unconscious level? Do we know what's happening in the mind of a white grandmother who freezes with suspicion at the sight of a black man walking towards her? How do we address what's happening in the mind of a white mother who's watching her children at the Valley Pool, only to be filled with fear that a visiting group of black children might steal from them.

If you are white, can you imagine what it would feel like as a black man to be asked by police to step outside your own home? Would you know, like Prof. Gates knew, that moving onto his porch would mean that the officer could handcuff him, take him down to headquarters, be humiliated with mug shots, and perhaps be subjected to rough treatment, if not brutality?

In America, where black men are automatically suspected, often brought in though not guilty, especially if their fear of what might happen to them at headquarters causes them to become agitated, when are we going to teach the police what it feels like to be in that position?

So far, I don't hear the Cambridge police department showing they understand it. They appear to be sorry only for "what happened to Officer Crowley!" What if they were trained to approach these particular situations with the desire to cool the fear their presence automatically generates?


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Lifelong activist for racial justice, for conflict resolution and diplomacy; published composer.

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Systemic Racism: A Serious Disease

"A War to Be Won, to be Won . . ." - excerpt from George Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band"