Current and former foster youth weigh in on racism and police brutality.
Racism and inequality have plagued this nation for hundreds of years. Racism here in the South is a familiar fear. Racism and discrimination exist in the education system, in the health care system when Black mothers don’t receive proper care, sports when our Black bodies are looked at as only tokens to win games, in shopping centers when my darker-skinned brothers are followed from entry to exit, in the prison system when mass incarceration and false charges usually apply to African-Americans, rather than Caucasians, in employment when my name could determine whether I get called for the interview or not.
Racism revokes equal opportunities, equal pay, equal education and fair treatment, and it doesn’t just harm people. Racism ruins lives and kills the small amount of humanity that this country has left. Growing up in the South, it usually wasn’t a question of if you were going to experience discrimination from your white counterparts, but when. Growing up in the South meant that Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech was exactly that … just a dream. Growing up in the South meant that more than likely nicer schools and nicer neighborhoods equated to fewer Black people being present, while growth and riches only came if you were lucky enough to “make it out.”
My first experience with racism was actually when I was 7 years old in my second grade class at Greenlawn Terrace Elementary school in Kenner, Louisiana. My fellow white classmates always pointed out that my skin was a little darker than theirs, my hair was more kinky, and that I stood out. When I finally stood up for myself, I was the one who was punished, even though the bullying had been going on since the beginning of that school year.
Another experience that comes to mind when thinking of the police is when I was 13 years old. My mom, who is white, always struggled with mental health when I was growing up. One night she slipped and fell and accused me of pushing and assaulting her. She called the police to our home. She said she was afraid of me, although I was maybe 100 pounds at the time soaking wet.
The police officers were both white males who addressed me in a derogatory tone. They stated that “Oh, I would beat the hell out of her next time or if she acts up again teach her a lesson.” In reality, my mom was actually abusing me so that was the last message they should’ve been sending. I believe because my mom is white, they turned to her and also said and you know how “they get.” They pitied her because of her white skin tone and an absent Black husband who constantly worked offshore, who she also blamed for everything. This only played further into the absent Black father narrative so many people spin.
They put me in the back of the police car, handcuffed with sirens wailing and transported me to the police station. That night, I slept on the floor of the police station until I was signed out and later went to court under a false simple battery charge. If those officers would have even taken time to analyze what really happened or called in a CPS report, they would’ve saved me a lot of pain. I feel like during that time they let me down, just like so many other adults who saw things and did nothing. My mom locked me in my room for almost two weeks, forcing me to pee in a bucket. Shortly after that, a full CPS investigation was conducted and I was entered into the foster care system.
My other experiences in the Black communities I was placed in while in foster care included an overall distaste and fear of police in general. We were scared to get pulled over or to even interface with police. It wasn’t because we had done anything wrong, but we knew that skin tone many times carried a guilty verdict before you ever committed a crime. I have witnessed many of my former classmates and members of our communities endure unfair treatment, racial profiling and discrimination at the hands of the police. It cuts deeply and outrages the entire community.
I have witnessed medical neglect because of skin color firsthand. When I was in care at 15, my Black foster mom, who I spent two years with, took her last breaths in front of me. I believe she died because the ambulance and police literally took 30 minutes to arrive to help a woman dying from a heart condition.
Then, when I entered into care they deemed me to be in a traumatic mental state, and I was transported four hours in the back of a police car to a mental hospital. I felt like a criminal.
At the end of the day, I know many people feel like it would be best if the tables were turned so the oppressors could feel the pain, the trauma, and understand the epigenetics that have impacted Black communities in America. However, I want people to know that the oppression of any group is injustice and wouldn’t make a better world or situation. The solution to this is equality and equity in all situations.
The feelings I believe our country, especially the African-American community, feels when those officers aren’t arrested or brought to justice after shooting unarmed Black civilians, is that the system only works one way — for the wealthy or those who are in power. I feel like the outside world only sees the anger and the rioting, but for the African-American community it’s a constant reminder of the same injustice and racial inequities we have faced our entire lives. If officers commit a crime, killing your loved ones, they don’t face appropriate consequences. The entire world makes excuses for them, but when it comes to the minority communities there are no excuses to be made. When did society get to the point where we make excuses for murder when police killed unarmed Black people? That is literally what makes people feel like Black lives don’t matter. And while police officers are rarely prosecuted, Black people often receive the harshest sentences for any wrongdoing they commit.
It makes everyone feel like it’s only justice for some, not justice for all, and that is the very breeding ground for systematic oppression and corruption.
I don’t think there is any effective way to cope with these experiences because they are still ongoing. That’s like telling someone to heal or cope with continuously getting cut. It’s like ripping someone’s heart out or constantly disrespecting them and then kicking them in the butt, saying, “Oh, now heal from it.” This is the reality we see, hear and live through every single day. This is what all African-Americans wake up to on the news, on social media, on the job, and most importantly, in the majority of the conversations we hear. It is detrimental to the mental health of African-Americans everywhere.
My suggestions are to utilize our grief and pain to uplift others during this time, to cope with these horrid injustices by fueling your time and anger into assisting others reach justice. Also, advocate constantly for change. Don’t let your pain go to waste, join in unity with your fellow brothers and sisters and heal by showing love and advocacy during this difficult time.
Although we may never see change in our lifetime, we must protest to show our younger generation that we will not stand by and tolerate the injustices that our forefathers endured. We must protest to empower the young children who will lead the fight after we leave. Although we want change so badly, we must know that it will remain the same unless we utilize our anger to fuel a revolution that will live long after us.