Standing with blackness

by Mary Ann McGivern

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I was at a meeting the other day about passing legislation to correct biased policing. The problem is that Missouri possesses more than a decade's-worth of data showing that police stop black drivers at a much higher rate than white drivers while finding far more white drivers who are intoxicated or possessing illegal drugs and guns. And there's no change in the data. Police continue to pull over black drivers at disproportionate levels.

The new bill would provide better tools for analyzing data. It would include pedestrian as well as traffic stops; require written consent for searches; make biased policing illegal in declared police department policies; provide money for police training; and provide department consequences for failure to comply within three years. It's a good bill and there's a broad coalition working to pass it.

But this particular meeting began in an unusual fashion, with what one could call a prayer. Christine, the black woman who had prepared the agenda, began by asking us to pause and remember Michael Brown, whose death had brought us together to do this work. Around our table and connected by telephone, we were 11 white and five black people. Christine continued: We are here today because of blackness.

Christine went on with a couple more sentences that I know were eloquent but that I can't recreate. I was stopped cold at the concept that we were gathered because of blackness.

So I've been thinking about, praying about, blackness. First I thought about praying for poor black people, for hungry black children, for blacks disproportionately imprisoned. But no, I thought. Blackness is a bigger concept. I thought about black night, black earth. I tutor at a middle school and one of the girls has very dark, very beautiful black skin that I've been admiring. I thought about the suffering of ordinary people simply because they are black. I remembered when I first heard Lorraine Hansbury's phrase, "To be young and gifted and black," and my feeling of slight envy for not experiencing that crucible of black suffering.

These are not deep thoughts about blackness. They are not poetic. But they are my daily thoughts. They are my daily prayers, my effort to hold blackness in the forefront of my mind and to stand with blackness.

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