As the mom of three black children, I’m no stranger to prejudice. Even toddlers aren’t exempt from thoughtless stereotyping — as evidenced by the time my 2-year-old son was called a “cute little thug” by a friend of the family. When my daughters were 4 and 6 years old, a young white male drove by our home and screamed the N-word at my daughters as they rode their bikes in our driveway. And two years ago, as a repair man installed a new cable system in our home, he explained to me that the DVR in our basement was considered a “slave box,” because it had to do whatever the main DVR box upstairs commanded it to do. He immediately grew wide-eyed, realizing what he had said in front of my children.
These are just three examples from my own life. But the truth is, people of color experience all sorts of microaggressions on a daily basis — and sometimes, it’s far worse.
As the white father of a black teenaged daughter, Oakland California news anchor Frank Somerville has undoubtedly lived through similar experiences. But on August 30, the KTVU anchor took to his Facebook page and made a lengthy confession to his 500,000 followers after a recent outing: He too was guilty of racially profiling a stranger.
It’s a story that truly needs to be read in full:
“I saw a white woman sitting at a bus stop at about 8 PM,” Somerville begins. “And there was a black guy dressed kind of ‘street’ walking on the sidewalk in her direction. (I say ‘kind of’ because he didn’t look like a hoodlum. More like ‘street casual.’) I was across the street and instantly thought to myself: ‘I’m going to watch this guy just to make sure he doesn’t do anything to the woman.’ And then it happened.”
“As he’s was walking I noticed a little boy running to catch up with him. The little boy then grabbed his dad’s hand. All of a sudden my whole view of the guy changed. I realized he was a dad just walking down the street with his son. I realized that he was ‘okay’ and wasn’t going to do anything. I was so angry with myself. The man did absolutely nothing wrong. And yet I initially saw him as a possible threat. And let’s be honest. The main reason was because of his skin color.”
As the post continues, Somerville admits he was angry with himself for having the thoughts he did, sharing: “On top of that I just had a talk with my daughter about how people might treat her differently from her ‘white’ sister based solely on her skin color. And now here I am doing the EXACT same thing. I was/am really disappointed in myself. But it also shows how strong that bias can be.”
The most powerful line of all came when Somerville explained his reasons for sharing the story, and the lesson he hopes others can glean from it:
“I hope by telling this story that maybe it will get other people to think about their biases,” wrote Somerville. “We ALL have them. And the only way to eliminate them is to realize that they are there in the first place.”
He couldn’t be more right. We’re used to seeing racial biases play out in a million different ways, every day. Not even celebs are exempt. Take the comedian Leslie Jones, who was tormented earlier this summer with a slew of racist tweets from users all over Twitter. Or the unfairly harsh criticism 49’ers player Colin Kaepernick has faced for peacefully protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem (something that’s his constitutional right, as President Obama recently noted). And who could forget the #OscarsSoWhite controversy back in February, which called out Hollywood’s blatant lack of diversity?
As a writer who spends her days focusing on the trials and tribulations of parenting, and the mom of three kids of color, let me share a quote I once heard by Ruby Bridges that’s stuck with me for years: “Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.” Bridges knows a little something about racism — after all, she’s best known for being the first African American child to integrate into a previously all-White school in the South.
But to me, this quote has a clear and important message: Parents, pay attention. Pay attention to what you listen to, what you watch, and what you say. Look around you. How many of your friends — your true friends — look nothing like you? How many conversations do you have where you do much of the listening and almost none of the talking? How empathetic are you to the prejudices that people of color are subjected to every moment of every day? It’s our job to effectively teach our children that racism is not okay, not even in the smallest degree, and that the only way to take a stand against it, is to call it out. Every time.
So thank you, Frank Somerville, for continuing the conversations we need to be having around race relations and racial injustice, in a candid, honest, and humbling way.More On