Every black person I know has or has had a family member in jail.
I wake up every day with the fear that I will be wrongfully fired, arrested or murdered. It is my reality.
When my wife was in labor with our son it took her several hours to complete delivery. It would have been ignorant and inconsiderate of me to tell her to suck it up or to try and relate to what she was experiencing. I have never given birth to a child and I never will; therefore I will never truly understand that experience.
If you are not a black male living in America, it is impossible to understand the panic in my gut every time I see a police officer, get an email about meeting with my boss, or find myself in unfamiliar surroundings.
For most black families the criminal justice system is all too familiar. In the seventies there were 300,000 people in jail, now there are 2.2 million. One in three black babies will end up in jail. Black defendants are eleven times more likely to get the death penalty than white defendants. America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. There are six million people on probation or parole. There are 70 million Americans who have been arrested. 132 million people have family members who are in jail or prison. It would be one thing if it were necessary, but we are locking people up for life for writing bad checks and possessing marijuana. There is an epidemic of over incarceration and excessive punishment.
Last week I mentioned Bryan Stevenson in my article about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Originally from Delaware, this Harvard trained lawyer has devoted his life to changing the criminal justice system. He is the focus of a new movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx called Just Mercy. In the film, Attorney Bryan Stevenson takes the case of Walter McMillian, an African-American man wrongfully imprisoned for the 1986 murder of a white woman in Alabama and sentenced to death.
As a black man I see the evidence of an unequal playing field every day. As a teacher I see the evidence of an unequal playing field in the classroom also.
Most standardized tests are written by white or Caucasian people whom we would categorize as middle class. These individuals speak a different language and have a different set of rules and experiences than many blacks or African Americans. A standardized test may refer to a ladle; blacks call this utensil a big spoon. There is a barrier there that no one talks about. Recently Will Smith and LeBron James said they had to learn how to maneuver between the two cultures. Both men grew up in black neighborhoods but attended white high schools.
Although integration took place in the seventies, black people did not integrate their way of living, language or lifestyle. Our Hispanic students speak English at school and Spanish at home. The same is true for black students. I have learned to maneuver in both environments. This is not fake or phony it is bilingual. There is a difference between communicating and connecting.
Does racism exist?
A couple years ago Attorney Bryan Stevenson was sitting in a courtroom at the defense counsel's table in a suit and tie and was mistaken for the defendant by the judge. Two years ago LeBron James had the n-word painted on his front door. I had a gun pulled on me by a police officer on school campus.
Next week I will write about the taboo topic of racism within the races and the responsibility of black people. It would be irresponsible to write about black lives being taken by the criminal justice system and not mention the fact that most blacks are murdered by other blacks.
Thank you for allowing me to share my reality.
Willie Spears is a teacher, coach, author, minister and motivational speaker. He has been awarded teacher and coach of the year. He speaks to thousands each year through his business The Willie Spears Experience. Willie may be reached at www.williespears.com.