I’m sitting here at 2 AM again for the hundredth or thousandth night in a row, I can’t remember, just finished making and mixing some music. Smoking some loud, gonna get back to work in a bit. But for the past 11 days, I haven’t been able to think about anything but Ferguson. Ferguson, and America, and racism, and social inequality, and institutionalized oppression. Police militarization, the removal of constitutional rights, the state rising up to protect and serve a police officer who murdered a black kid, instead of protecting and serving the community that pays their bills. The incredibly brave and heroic people who have fought for their rights protesting at Ferguson, and the incredibly dense and ignorant people who either ignore what’s going on, lie about it, or outright endorse it. I don’t know where to start with my thoughts, or how this will go - but I gotta write em down.
As a middle class white kid from the midwest, I feel like my life is the one that is identified in our social consciousness as “typically American” - a youth full of family, friends, school, ball games and barbecues, etc. It wasn’t until I was an adult and moved out of my parents’ house that I realized how many things that me and my community identified as “normal” were actually unique things that only people with a certain socioeconomic status got to experience. I went to St. Elizabeth’s, a Catholic grade school, because our KCMO public school system was in shambles and unaccredited. My parents were able to save up enough money to send me and my brothers to Rockhurst, the best high school in Kansas City, which allowed all of us the opportunity to get into good colleges - I went to Mizzou. It struck me suddenly at one point - that the only way I got to college was because my parents had good jobs, and because I went to Catholic schools. Private catholic schools in KC have a monopoly on quality education - if you don’t have the money to go to one, you are stuck in a school system that literally is not accredited to give you a proper high school diploma. You can still make it into colleges from those schools - if you have exceptional grades and learn, at a young age, to work your ass off within a system of odds stacked against you. My class at St. E’s was the biggest in their history at that point - and we had one black girl, who only came for the last three years.
It sounds cliche and over-narrated, but I remember the moment that really changed my life and opened up my eyes to how our American society works. At Rockhurst, every year we had to complete a number of community service hours - a task that, though it had good intentions and results, implied that we were privileged enough to give back to the rest of the poorer community. I did my service hours my junior year at The Upper Room, a daycare and school for poor kids along Swope Parkway, in the poor, black neighborhood of KC. I met an 8-year old girl there named Mareyjah, and we instantly became super best friends - she told her friends that I looked like Young Jeezy for some reason, who was one of my favorite rappers at the time, and I made sure from then on that me and Mareyjah hung out all day every day. She was hilarious, always playing practical jokes on me and telling funny stories, and she just had that brightness and innocence about her that I couldn’t help but fall in love with.
One day I came in and Mareyjah was sitting in the stairwell reading a book. I sat down with her and started reading with her, and we came to a page with a picture of a baby in his crib. Mareyjah said, “Aww he’s so cute, he looks just like my brother!” I didn’t know she had a baby brother, and I asked her about him. She proceeded to change my life. She told me, in her bubbly, beautifully optimistic voice, that her little brother was sick (with a chronic condition, she didn’t know the name), that she got home from the Upper Room in the afternoon and her mom would soon leave to work her nightshift, and she would take care of her brother, alone, all night, and sometimes he would stay up crying and she’d give him his medicine but he’d still cry, but she’d just sing to him or hold him until he would fall asleep. She told me how she heard gunshots every few nights, and people had broken into houses on her block, but that she wasn’t scared, she was only scared for her little brother because she knew a girl whose baby brother had gotten hit by a stray bullet. I asked her about her dad, and she said, “Well he’s in jail”, the same way my grade school classmates would say, “he’s an architect” or “he’s a salesman”. Mareyjah ripped my heart in half in that stairwell, and I sat in there dumb shock, trying to fake it and smile through it. She turned the page, kept laughing and reading.
We had always been taught in school that racism was wrong, that Dr. King was a hero, that a man should not be judged by the color of his skin - but it wasn’t really until this moment that I realized how many ridiculous fucking obstacles an average black person has to go through to find success in America. I went to Rockhurst - an all-male, Jesuit high school, filled with mostly affluent white kids, jumping on the fast track to good colleges and great jobs. Since we were all-male, and good at football, there was always a semi-macho atmosphere at Rockhurst. Mareyjah was tougher than every single one of us. This little 8-year old girl was tougher than every fucking one of us. She had a harder life, she had been dealt a worse hand, she had to do things that would make us cry and give up and get depressed and lash out violently, and she did them with a smile because she was a beautiful, innocent, optimistic person. We were busy focusing on not getting caught drinking or smoking pot or having sex by our parents - we hated the cops because they broke up our parties and gave us MIPs. Mareyjah had real, serious problems, and she dealt with them, as an 8-year old, better than most privileged white people deal with their problems at 40.
But Mareyjah would have to study her ass off, get a side job to make money, just to have a chance to get into one of those private Catholic schools. She would have to stay out of trouble in her neighborhood, not hang out at the wrong party, not be on the wrong street at the wrong time. She would have to look out for her sick brother, hope every night that her mom would make it back to help her get ready for school, hope that her dad might come home to stabilize her house and family. She would have to do this all day, every day of her life, while outworking all of us middle-class white kids, just to have a shot at what our families could readily give us. And even then, even if she did all that, and somehow made it, and somehow got into a college - she would have to find a quality job that would want to hire a black woman from the ghetto, and pay her what she deserved.
That’s the thing that’s hardest for me to get over after what’s happened in Ferguson - the fact that most white people I know will readily dismiss that. The fact that white people want to pretend that because America is a capitalist democracy, success is only about hard work and self-resolve, not at all about privilege. The fact that white people think “ignorance” and “dependence on welfare” and “laziness” and “a lack of cultural morals” and a hundred other fucking inherently racist beliefs are what keep black communities down, not four centuries of institutionalized oppression and its slow-churning fallout. Face it - you want to offend a black person, you say something racist. You want to offend a white person - you mention white privilege. “Honky” and “cracker” don’t hurt. “You only have that job because of your family’s socioeconomic status, which is inextricably tied to their historical place in our society’s racial hierarchy” - that shit cuts DEEP into the soul of the white man.
But we brush it off - we act as if it’s not real, as if that’s the invention of lazy blacks who don’t want to work hard enough to succeed. Those of us white people that think that shit need to do some research on the history of the American economy. Because at it’s heart, every issue stems back to economic oppression. If you have enough money, you can buy your way into a neighborhood with mansions and gates, you can buy a country club membership and have people call you “sir”, you can buy your way into the exclusive nightclubs and restaurants and business meetings and golf courses that signify what “successful” people do in America. White people say - well, we built a system of free trade - so what’s the problem?
The problem is that the inception of our system of capitalism was based on slavery. One of the biggest reasons that America became an economic superpower was because we promoted the idea of global capitalism, not tied to any monarchic or feudal system of finance/property ownership - we endorsed the idea of free trade, and we had the means to generate goods and wealth at such a rate that in its first official century, America became an economic power that could rival our European and Asian competitors. But the other biggest reason - WE HAD AN UNPAID LABOR SOURCE FOR 400 YEARS. Slavery allowed American capitalists to cut out the biggest chunk of their business expense, employee salaries, and absolutely exploded the American profit margin. Suddenly, family farms turned into corporate plantations, descendants of meager pilgrims turned into millionaire businessmen, America had more capital than it knew what to do with, and the American capitalist experiment “succeeded”.
But if you look at capitalism on a macro scale, as Thomas Piketty did in his recent best-selling work on income inequality, you find that capitalism favors those who already hold capital. It is easier to make profit with land ownership, stocks, investment banking, etc., than it is to make profit with an independent start-up business. Capitalism favors those who already have money - the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When you add this “unforeseen” (sure) component into the equation of America’s history, this whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” thing gets just a little more complicated. One of the main ways people got wealthy in the 18th and 19th century was through dynastic family wealth - money would pile up over the years from the families of landowners, businessmen, corporate financiers, etc., and would be passed down through the generations. That’s why the utmost country club dude you know is always named Chester Winnington the Fourth, and has never and will never have to work to survive. Their families were allowed to keep their money, grow it over time, invest it, and if they did so wisely, they suddenly become the Rockefellers or the Bushes.
But if your ancestors were specifically DENIED the right to make and stockpile money - if they were African slaves - and you didn’t have those four centuries of dynastic family wealth to build upon, suddenly the whole playing field is shifted, and white people are starting the 100-meter race with a 50-meter handicap. But don’t worry if you’re black - you can run and catch up! As long as you’re Jay-Z or LeBron James or an equally insanely talented and driven person who gets a few lucky breaks. Chris Rock summed it up best with his bit about his mansion in Alpine, New Jersey. If you haven’t seen it - there are four black people in Chris’ neighborhood, among hundreds of houses. The four are him, the greatest standup in the world at the time, Jay-Z, the greatest rapper in the world at the time, Eddie Murphy, one of the all-time great comedians and movie stars, and Mary J. Blige, the greatest singer in the world at the time. Their neighbor is a white doctor. Yeah, black people can move in! - as long as they’re the greatest of all time in their industries. Meanwhile, as long as the white guy’s a doctor, he can probably afford it. He’s not the greatest doctor of all time, just a white doctor who came from money.
If you just research the history of the culture of capitalism in America, the idea that its a fair system that only proves economic survival of the fittest is just bullshit. Our history is too unique and circumstantial to pretend that this was all decided by our destiny, our will to work hard and our self-resolve. But this idea is all-too prevalent in white culture. And here’s where the really evil part comes in - those same white people will tell you that the reason for the economic recession, and the biggest drain on our society, is paying for welfare. “MY TAX DOLLARS SHOULDN’T GO TO SOMEONE WHO’S TOO LAZY TO WORK FOR THEMSELVES”, they say, in their loud, white, rhythm-less voices. Honkies lol. They have obviously never seen the stats, that the majority of poor black people on welfare already have jobs, jobs which don’t pay them enough to survive, jobs usually working for corporations that are usually owned by these same white people. You don’t want to pay for welfare? GOOD, PASS SOME FUCKING LEGISLATION THAT RAISES MINIMUM WAGE TO A REALISTIC LEVEL, DEMANDS CORPORATIONS TO PAY A FAIR PERCENTAGE TO THEIR LABOR FORCE AND IN TAXES, AND FINALLY FUCKING BRIDGES THE 1% AND 99% INCOME GAP.
But they’ll never do that - because that’s not in their best interest. Think about it like this - the majority of people in this country (not for long) are middle-class white people. Their money pool is getting sucked on by two sides - the poor people who need welfare, and the one percenter corporations who use tax shelters and capital gains tax brackets to avoid paying taxes - companies such as Pepco Holdings, PG&E Corp, Apache, Boeing, and many more - who make BILLIONS in profit and literally pay ZERO DOLLARS in federal income tax. The poor people are sucking up your money with a thousand straws - the corporations are sucking up your money with a thousand fucking industrial Wet-Vacs. If we taxed corporations the way they deserve to be taxed, so that they could STILL make billions, STILL be rich, STILL run the world, and just provide enough for the rest of America to have a high enough standard of living that we could call ourselves “the greatest country in the world” and not get fucking DRY HEAVES, then the middle class would NEVER EVEN NOTICE PAYING FOR WELFARE. The idea that WELFARE is what’s hurting our economy is fucking insane - for another weird metaphor lol, that’s like saying the maggots on a carcass are destroying it, while the pack of hyenas chewing on its flesh are only doing what’s right.
But facts don’t convince racist white people - they steadily ignore them, turn on Fox News and go to I’mRight.Com to get their opinions verified by other privileged white people. In fact, the tea party and the conservative bullshit machine has done SUCH a good job in selling this lie that even UN-PRIVILEGED white people believe this shit - some of the most staunchly conservative, racist people you’ll ever meet are poor, usually rural white people whose lives would be immeasurably improved by beefed-up welfare and stronger corporate taxes.
So why don’t they do this? Why don’t the economically oppressed masses in America, a representative democracy, use their voting and buying power to change the status quo? Why don’t we have a global labor strike, and in ONE DAY force the corporations’ hand to give us back the money and opportunity to really make this the fucking land of the free, home of the brave?
Far as I can figure out, two reasons. One - the lottery effect. We all think we MIGHT get rich someday. We all think our windfall of cash is waiting around the corner, that if we can just break through with our great talents, our looks, our ideas, our tubeless penis-pump we’re inventing in our garage, that we can break through and get into the one-percenter club. How many damn American movies are based on this idea? How many stories and fantasies have the fucking phrase “rags-to-riches” in them? Isn’t that literally what’s defined as “the American Dream”? They teach that shit to us white people young too - lemme tell you what white-people-high-school-movies are like. There’s a group of (usually privileged) cool kids who are popular, have awesome parties, go on awesome vacations, drive awesome cars, etc. And the nerds and losers all hate them because they envy them, but one nerdy girl or guy gets acceptance into their club, gets a makeover, it turns out she’s actually hot ohmygod. That’s the lottery effect - introduce the idea that one of you can get lucky and succeed, and it keeps 10 million people buying tickets.
The other reason that middle-class white people blame black people for America’s problems and not the one-percent - because we don’t want to admit that we’re closer on the scale to black people than to the one-percent. My family makes less than six figures a year - always have and damn sure always will. Economically, we are so much closer to Mareyjah than Bill Gates. But families like mine keep voting for politicians and legislation that helps the Bill Gates club instead of the Mareyjah club. Because a lot of us are inherently racist. And a lot of us take pride in the “cultural values” of our white community, and the things that we do and think and say, and we think those things are “natural” and “right” and “the way things oughta be”. And because of that, we can’t identify with black faces, black voices, black needs and black problems.
Of course, these ideas and tendencies are borne out in our society. I moved to St. Louis the summer after my freshman year of college, to live and work with my best friend, a half-black rapper named O.V. who lived in South County. While I was there, we worked at a country club in West County. This dichotomy really struck home again there with me - us, the poor workers, came in and had serious jobs to do, all so the rich (almost-always white) people could leisurely enjoy their time playing golf, eating, partying, getting drunk etc. Almost all the workers came from North County or East Saint - most of the kitchen and janitorial staff was black. Everybody was working class, struggling to get by while rich people went golfing and had drinks at 11 AM on a Tuesday.
Me and O.V. did a ton of hip-hop shows throughout St. Louis, mostly around downtown and in North County, and spending the summer there, I really started to see how the city was racially divided. Mostly black people lived in North County and East Saint, mostly white people lived in South and West County, and they didn’t really cross those lines. Sure, everyone went downtown to the bars or to Cards and Rams games - but then everyone jumped on the highway and went back to their sections of the city.
Because of how St. Louis is laid out, with these four nebulous counties surrounding the downtown hub, connected by highways, it really hit me the way the city was racially segregated - but then I realized, my city is just the same way. Then I started to realize - almost every major American city I’ve ever been in is the same way. There’s a county, or city, or neighborhood that’s almost all-black, almost all-poor, and there are these invisible dividing lines that keep our communities separate. In my city it’s Troost Avenue - it runs North-South and separates the poor-black East side from the wealthy-white West side. My situation is a little unique, being in Kansas City - I live in Brookside, a nice, almost suburban-seeming community, but one that is still in the metro city limits. We’re ten minutes south of downtown KC, ten minutes north of Rockhurst. If you drive ten blocks east from my house, you hit Troost and the poor black neighborhood. If you drive ten blocks west, you cross State Line Rd. and hit Mission Hills, Kansas, literally one of the richest neighborhoods in America. It’s like the class divisions are laid out cleanly east-to-west - and being smack in the middle of them, poetically enough, helped my white ass realize how my city was racially segregated.
When you look at Ferguson, it’s the same thing - they broke up the St. Louis County into several different counties, meaning that the tax-dollar pool would no longer be shared with both rich white West County people and poor black North County people. You see the same thing in Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles - white people move away from these black urban neighborhoods, their tax dollars and discretionary income stop supporting those neighborhoods, those neighborhoods fall into disrepair, their school systems go under, their economic opportunities dissolve, and voila - you have a black ghetto. No corporations build offices there. No private schools build campuses there. The only job opportunities that move in are low-income, shitty jobs at corporate fast-food restaurants and retail outlets.
THAT is economic oppression. THAT is institutionalized racism. Housing segregation - both on the part of white buyers not wanting to live near blacks, and corporate lenders not wanting to help blacks move into good neighborhoods - has ripped apart our American cities. Bet you this - you live in a major American city, every day, there’s rush hour from 3-6 PM right? You know what that is? IT’S WHITE FLIGHT. It’s people, who come into the city to work because their offices are located downtown, who then get on the highway and drive back to their suburban homes. White flight is played out every day in my city - you see cars with Kansas license plates, or people heading back to Lee’s Summit or Liberty or any other KC suburb, and they’re usually white, and they’re leaving their jobs to go back home. They had to come into the city to work, because that’s where the money is - the real financiers, the bankers, the lawyers, the movers and shakers in the KC business world all work downtown. But god forbid you live there, or spend time there, or spend tax dollars there - because its “not a good place to live”, because its “dangerous” and “crowded” and “hectic”. Hectic and ethnic, huh?
I noticed this too at Mizzou. When you go through that freshman year introduction-conversation phase, you always ask the same shitty questions - “what’s your dorm” / “what’s your major” etc. Then you ask them where they’re from. At Mizzou, the answer was usually KC, St. Louis, Chicago, or somewhere in Texas. When people would say “KC”, I’d say, “Oh me too - what part are you from?” And I SWEAR, the answer was almost always “Blue Springs” / “Lee’s Summit” / “Liberty” etc. All suburbs of KC. Same thing with Chicago - “Crystal Lake” / “Aurora” / “Arlington Heights”. After a while I was like - yo, am I the only person “from KC” who actually LIVES in the KC metro area? Is THIS why I love rap music lol? Is THIS why my clothes are bummy, and I don’t have a car, and I don’t have a country club membership, and I’m spending my spring break at my parents’ house?
None of this is to say these are bad things, or white people shouldn’t live in the suburbs, or they don’t deserve happiness and success. Not at all. But we NEED to acknowledge that these things are real - otherwise, Ferguson happens, and we’re all stuck with our dumb opinions and we all argue, and we all think we’re right, and nothing changes. If middle-class white people, who make up the majority of the voting power in this country, don’t recognize the history of racial and economic oppression that black Americans have had to face for centuries - then we’re living in a fucking dream world, which will crash down on us, sooner than we think. You know what happens in overpopulated, economically-recessed, government-oppressed countries? THEY REVOLT. People riot, police act like militaries, constitutional rights are taken away and the boot of the state is shoved down people’s throats - kinda sounds like Ferguson?
We can’t sit here and hashtag activist this shit, say #Fergsuon it’s so #sad I wish we could just have #peace. That’s not enough. White people have to use the systems and opportunities available to us to tell our government that oppression of black Americans has gone on for way too fucking long, and it will not be tolerated by us anymore. I know that sounds like the white savior complex - but in a representative democracy, and a capitalist society, the masses still have power - and if the masses are still majority white-middle class, then white middle-class people need to take fucking action.
Look at the causes white middle-class people have gotten behind in the past year. Millions raised for ALS awareness and research from the Ice Bucket Challenge. Marriage equality and support of gay rights at an unprecedented rate in states across the country. Marijuana legalization in many states. Hell, we got fucking Sea World shut down because of Blackfish. But we’re scared to talk about racism. We love Blackfish more than black people.
It’s a messy, gross topic for white people. It’s one of those things they teach you is not polite to talk about - you don’t talk about religion, politics, or race in a social setting. It’s much easier to do some hashtag activism and #BringOurGirlsBack or fight #Kony2012, when those are theoretical conflicts happening far away from our computer screens. It’s much harder to look at the city around you and say “this shit’s not right”. ESPECIALLY when this shit is either directly or indirectly beneficial to you and your white community. And that’s just for the smart, empathetic people who even recognize this shit’s going on - the dumb people ignore it, and the evil people support it. And if you read internet comment sections…smart white people are looking like the minority out here.
That’s been one of the hardest things for me to keep quiet about these past 11 days. The day Michael Brown was killed, I remember seeing the dichotomy just perfectly, poetically played out on my Facebook timeline. First thing I saw was a video my dude Tef Poe posted of the initial scene in the apartment complex after Michael Brown’s death. The second thing I saw was a white girl who just got engaged on a hot air balloon, saying “this was a day I’ll remember forever”. You couldn’t paint the picture of white privilege more perfectly. Tef CANNOT avoid this - he has to speak out and protest, he has to hurt for Michael Brown, he has to fight the system until change happens, because otherwise he is complicit in his own oppression. The white girl had no idea this shit even happened - she was on a hot air balloon getting her engagement ring. It was like seeing two different worlds - and these two people are both from the SAME FUCKING CITY. Different counties.
Seeing white people ignore this shit or actively approve of the oppression of the people of Ferguson is infuriating and heartbreaking, and I want to smash shit every time I go on social media lately. What makes it even worse is that white people KNOW “racism is bad” - like I said, they all were taught the Dr. King story during Black History Month and shit in grade school. But the racism they can rally behind is whether or not Michael B. Jordan should be allowed to play Johnny Blaze in the new Fantastic Four movie - shit that doesn’t make them think about their lives, their socioeconomic positions, their history of their family and their country. Bomani Jones was dead fucking right when he said white people felt safe crying out racism in the Donald Sterling situation, but when it came to dealing with real institutionalized racism, we would have a lot less to say - Ferguson proved him dead fucking right on that. We know that racism is bad, we just either don’t realize or pretend we don’t know how deeply racism is embedded in the fabric of our society.
I’m scared for our generation man. I look around and see lots of opinions, lots of social posturing and image-grooming, but not a lot of action. But at the same time - as horrible as this shit has been, something amazing has come out of it. I always said during the Iraq War that our generation is fucked, because when the time comes to fight for our rights, we’ll be too lazy to do it. I thought I was right then - we fought a war that our government lied about, they killed thousands of our sons and millions of Arabs, and we sat around and talked about the fucking new iPod or whatever was cool in 2005. But these 11 days since Michael Brown’s death have showed me that I was wrong - because the black people in St. Louis have shown incredible courage, bravery, intelligence, self-resolve, and social responsibility. They saw that shit was fucked up and they were outside Ferguson PD THAT NIGHT. They got tear-gassed, riot-shelled, they faced government oppression, not through a movie or a Pink Floyd album or their house party getting broken up, but rather they stared that shit STRAIGHT IN THE FACE and none of them shook.
I have been amazed at the bravery and leadership of my homies Tef Poe and T-Dubb - they have been at the front lines of this whole thing, doing national and international media interviews, informing the people of what’s really going on through their social media, leading rallies, stopping fights, saving fucking lives. I thought these dudes were dope rappers who I was cool with - I didn’t realize I had befriended some fucking heroes. The dude Haiku, who has been instrumental throughout the Ferguson protests, saved a French journalist and her team from tear gas, leading them through Ferguson streets and alleys they were unfamiliar with until they were safe. Who the FUCK seemed like the good guy to those French journalists - the police or Haiku? I saw video today of protesters weeding out, interrogating, then kicking out a fake protester from a conservative news group who was trying to incite a riot - that’s some next-level perception, intelligence, and social responsibility. The image of young EyeFloodPanties throwing back the tear gas bomb WILL go down in history as one of the greatest images ever seen of American patriotism, of the power of the people against government oppression. That picture will be like the Iwo Jima statue in 50 years. For a community that, to our most racist white people, “lacks moral values”, “encourages laziness”, and “just spends welfare money trying to live baller fantasies” - they sure as fuck showed a hell of a lot of more motivation, courage, intelligence and bravery in these past 11 days than the kids in my neighborhood would. That’s on everything. If cops shot tear gas at us at Rockhurst, we’d probably…call more cops lol, then cry about how it’s unfair and then call our parents to pick us up. The black people in Ferguson are American heroes, and we’re watching the revolution for change being led by them in real time.
That brings me back to Mareyjah. It’s 4 AM, I’ve been writing this for two hours - if you’ve left by now I understand one hundred lol. At Mareyjah’s school they had these weekly reading comprehension tests, and the kids’ test scores would help determine their grades, which would help determine which classes they were put into, which would eventually help determine which schools they would get into. The main focus of her program was to help kids like her read at grade level, so they could get into schools - except, as mountains of data has shown, standardized testing and the grading system in this country is often geared more towards white, middle-class students, which contributes to the failure of many poor, black students and school systems. The way the tests worked - Mareyjah would get on the computer, where she was given a series of multiple choice questions based on a book she had read. I was supposed to help her use the computer and make sure she didn’t cheat.
Mareyjah was very bright and actually read very well for her age, but I noticed on the test that she kept having trouble with certain words. They were always complex words, words that an 8-year old black girl from the hood rarely ever heard or used, like “deceived” and “complications” and shit like that. Mareyjah would read the question or the answer out loud, then stumble as soon as she got to those words, then turn to me for help, confused. The first few weeks, I would smile and just point her back to the computer, telling her she had to do it herself. She would still get good grades, but she struggled with a few of the tests. The week after we talked in the stairwell, something inside of me said fuck it. These are words written by some scholastic program, which aren’t relevant to Mareyjah or her life. She doesn’t know these words yet, because the crumbling neighborhood around her hasn’t taught her these words. But it did teach her to be the strongest, most beautiful little person I’d ever met, and fuck it, that means a whole lot more than knowing what the fuck “deceived” means.
So I started helping her with the words. I would keep my voice low, so the school admins wouldn’t hear, but I would read those words aloud for her, and come up with simple definitions when she asked what they meant - “deceived” became “tricked”, “complications” became “problems”, etc. As soon as I would give her those little clues, EVERY time, she would perk up with that little kid “OOH I know the answer!” face, turn back and click the mouse on the right answer. She was clearly bright, clearly understood the reading material and the concepts they were trying to teach, and once I gave her those little tips, she excelled in her testing.
The last week I was there, Mareyjah came running up to me when I first saw her on Monday morning and gave me a huge hug. She was holding her test score with a gold star and a “100% - Great Job Mareyjah!” written across the top. She told me how proud her mom was of her, that she had taken her out to dinner last Friday night to celebrate it. She told me how proud she was of herself, how she LOVED books and she wanted to keep reading more and more.
I did something I wasn’t supposed to, because I loved Mareyjah and I wanted to do anything I could to help her in life, because she was a good person. If it meant breaking some arbitrary rules, fuck it, I was gonna do it. I wrote this same story in one of my college essays, and wouldn’t you know, I did not get positive feedback about it lol. I know I technically cheated - but I also know I did the right thing, and I helped Mareyjah out in the tiniest way I could. And I know I owed her that - not because I was there for Rockhurst service hours, or because I was privileged and she was not - but because she was a good person, and good people are supposed to help each other out in life.
I didn’t share my story with Mareyjah to say that I’m a great person look at me, or that white people need to follow my example. I just shared it because I love and miss Mareyjah, and I hope with all my heart that her life has taken a turn for the better and that she’s on her way to success. That was almost ten years ago now - Mareyjah probably has no idea who I am anymore, and she is a totally different person living a totally different life now. But she helped open my eyes to how the world really was - this sweet little 8-year old black girl knew more about life than my 16-year old middle-class white ass, and for that I am forever grateful. I would break the rules a million times over for her, because of what she gave me. She deserves it.
That’s what I want to end this with - the idea that all people in America deserve a good life. They all deserve a shot at success, at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. White people have made sure for centuries that black people could not have that, first through slavery, then through outright Jim Crow-racial oppression, then in the post-Civil Rights world, through institutionalized racism. We are seeing the effects of decades, centuries of white oppression of blacks right now, before our eyes in Ferguson. The first night, the pictures were shocking - by now, we’re used to them. But we can’t let this one slide. This is our chance to open up the discussion, to finally be honest about how things got to this point, when you have a police apartheid, a 90% white police force tear-gassing their 70% black citizens, in the name of “law and order”. People around the globe see how inherently fucked up this is - there are protests in New York, Turkey, England, all over, because people recognize what’s right and what’s wrong.
It’s time for white, middle-class Americans to do the same.