To the Editor:
Recently, Ariella Bennett, an African American high school classmate of my son from the class of 2010, posted a message on Instagram. A photo had popped up on her timeline reminding her that it had been ten years since she graduated from Manchester Essex High School.
Her first thought was, “Wow it’s been ten years since I was able to escape hell on earth.”
Ariella’s emotional post on Instagram describes her feelings as she remembers the racism, discrimination, and constant focus on her skin color every day at school. Being called “Oprah” or “monkey” by fellow students or feeling that the school fully enforced every rule for her but let the white kids slide for the same actions.
You can read the full text here: instagram.com/p/CBJKcybnbBS/
This is her story and she’s very capable of telling it. I think it would be reasonable for the school leadership to follow up with her to see what can be learned, if they haven’t done so already.
At the same time, I want to focus on another comment by Ariella: a policeman told her that her license plate had been checked 67 times during her senior year.
I asked her how she knew this to be true and she told me she and some friends were talking with a police officer who told each of them how many times their plates had been run. She said she never forgot her number.
67 times is a lot, isn’t it?
Here’s a different illustration of the same thing. A black man in Minneapolis was stopped by the police 49 times over 13 years. The last time he was stopped, he was killed by them, shot four times while sitting in his car in 2016. You can read about it here: nyti.ms/2Yjfapx
I’m not writing this to discuss police conduct. There’s work to be done about the rules and training for the police in our country, and it’s a serious and important topic that must involve everyone.
But I am interested in addressing how our institutions enable some people to be targeted so intensely and unfairly. Every day at school, or just driving around. These, to me, are textbook examples of institutional racism.
Everyone wants to feel part of their community, protected and served. Feeling separate or hunted because you’re black isn’t fair. Not a single person reading this would want to be treated this way.
What are we so afraid of that we tolerate this? That’s the real question to me.