Trigger warning: The following letter references themes of racism and racist violence. If this isn’t the right time for you to absorb this content, please prioritize your own wellbeing and read it at another time.
By Bryan Hatcher
Twenty three years ago I sat in a class room at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work. Dr. Iris Carlton-LeNay had spent the semester teaching us the formal and informal mechanisms of the US and North Carolina welfare systems. To help destigmatize the idea of welfare, she asked how many of us had ever used some form of welfare, a few hands were raised. She then asked how many of us were receiving some form of financial aid to be in graduate school. Before any of us could raise our hands, she reminded us that we were at a state school and were the beneficiaries of lower tuition due to state support of the school – a form of welfare. Lesson learned!
Toward the end of the semester, Dr. Carlton-LeNay arrived to class a few minutes late and somewhat discombobulated – neither of which had we experienced from her before. She was obviously shaken as she tried to start class. She explained to us that she had had “the talk” with her son recently, much sooner in his young life than she had imagined. Many of us in the room assumed she was referring to the sex talk, but she quickly corrected us and stated that African-American parents have to teach their children how to stay alive in our culture by paying particular attention to their interactions with others, particularly law enforcement. I learned that “the talk” was about keeping their children alive and safe! I learned that my own white privilege and implicit biases meant more than I had ever considered. I learned that every day I need to do something to end disparities. I learned that simply staying out of trouble so that the system would take care of me was not acceptable.
I still have a lot to learn. I still have much to do. I am not sure that things will ever be OK in our culture. But I do know that it is not my right, privilege, or lot in life to turn a blind eye, to think in terms of them and us, to not be outraged by the injustices. We live in a fractured world. I cannot pretend to understand the lives of black and brown people in our culture. I am not sure what the action is just yet, but it is time to begin discerning how I will live more fully into healing the wounds of our world.
Bryan Hatcher is President of CareNet Counseling.