Recently, two Native American students were on a campus tour at Colorado State University, and the police were called on them by a mother. This is an abridged version of what the mother said:
I am with my son doing a campus tour…There are two young men that joined our tour that weren’t a part of our tour. They’re not, definitely not a part of the tour. And their behavior is just really odd…
If it’s nothing, I’m sorry, but they, it actually made me feel, like, sick, and I’ve never felt like that.
I think they’re Hispanic, I believe. One of them for sure. He said he’s from Mexico. When I asked what they were wanting to study I could tell they were making stuff up because one of them started to laugh about it.
Every time I review this transcript, I experience the stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages of grief were first conceptualized by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kuber-Ross in On Death and Dying. While these stages were not necessarily intended to use in processing oppression. I find it the best tool in the classroom for students to name their pain.
Here I am, left to do the same as I process this racial incident.
Considering Mother’s Day was this month, this piece is dedicated to mothers of color who do not get the recognition they deserve. It is also dedicated to their children of color who are at risk of being murdered, imprisoned or told they are less than because they are rejected by a society that does not value or cultivate their potential.
Denial and isolation. Did this really happen on a college campus tour? Where two Native male students were racially profiled, questioned by police and left CSU without the proper admissions tour they were entitled to. Am I in denial because if I were a mother, would I have done the same thing if I felt my child was in danger?
In this incident, isolation is where I have come to terms with my answer. My answer is “no” because I do not have the White privilege to protect myself or my future children. Did this mother ever think where these boys’ parents were? Potentially working in their home state of New Mexico to be sure their children were afforded the same opportunities as her son?
Isolation has allowed me to reflect on the realities and tools I will have to equip my future children of color with. Especially, my unborn son.
Anger. I am angry that a person can literally say, “But they, it actually made me feel, like, sick.” Our sons of color make you literally sick? If you fear our sons of color, you might want to ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable? Perhaps next time stop and reflect on the following: In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education found that nationally Native American students represented less than 1 percent of the student population, yet are at 2 percent for school arrests and 3 percent for referrals to law enforcement. As a society, the policing of our sons of color needs to stop.
Bargaining. I am left feeling helpless and vulnerable for our sons. Our reality is that our sons are not safe. We can bargain with the “if only” and teach them the skills and abilities to survive, but we need them to thrive.
Depression. This racial incident has me tired. As a scholar, I produce research to assist communities of color. But when these incidents occur, I step back and ask, “Are you listening to our pain?”
Acceptance. Premature death for our sons of color is at an all-time high. I refuse to accept this. This is how to not kill our sons.
If you fear our sons of color, learn more about them. In 2013, considering the murder and verdict of Trayvon Martin, President Obama stated: “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago…I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”
A history that does not go away. Obama’s response was My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative “to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.” Since then, academics, foundations and businesses have assisted in advancing Obama’s agenda.
As a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, I engaged with RISE (Research, Integration, Strategies, and Evaluation) for boys and men of color which is a field advancement effort to understand and strategically improve the lives, experiences and outcomes of these populations spanning five fields: education, health, human services and social policy, juvenile and criminal justice, and workforce development. These resources exist for everyone to learn from.
Stop killing our sons, literally and metaphorically. Do not kill their dreams, aspirations or hopes. For the two Native American students who were victims of this racial incident, we need you in college. We need you to live and thrive.
This is a call to action. Make a connection, be an ally. The best allies are the individuals who listen, advocate and empower others to do the same.
Dr. Nichole Margarita Garcia is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. You can follow her on Twitter @DrNicholeGarcia