Local View: 'Will she have to go to jail?'
The little boy had to have been around 3. Our grandson is 3. The little boy and the young woman I took to be his mother sat down in the lobby of the YMCA just long enough to put on the little guy's coat, hat, and mittens. He evidently had just co...
The little boy had to have been around 3. Our grandson is 3. The little boy and the young woman I took to be his mother sat down in the lobby of the YMCA just long enough to put on the little guy's coat, hat, and mittens. He evidently had just come from the day care center while his mother had a workout. It was one of those very cold days after the warmer snow and slush followed by brutal ice. I was sitting nearby eating a banana. The boy eyed me warily and looked away.
"We have to hurry to pick up your sister from school; we can't leave her waiting outside," the woman said.
"Why?" the little boy asked. "Will she have to go to jail?"
"No," his mother said. "But I might have to go to jail if I don't pick her up!"
I was struck. "Will she have to go to jail?" What 3-year-old would even have such a notion in his precious little head?
Then I remembered all the stories told by mothers of African-heritage children, stories about how they have to have conversations with their children, from a very young age, especially their sons, about growing up black in a white world. I remember their strong emotions, the trembling in their voices, the tears they shed in telling their own stories, unique in each situation yet similar in theme and tone. It's dangerous to be a person of color in a white context, even in so-called progressive communities like Duluth.
My wife and I were just with our grandson over the holidays. Never in a million years would such a question come to his consciousness: "Why? Will she have to go to jail?"
Is this white privilege?
Recently I met a young man and his friend in a conversation in the sauna at the Y. He grew up here and was home from Florida visiting his family over the holidays. He was well-educated and articulate. I asked him why he left Duluth.
"Because I feel safer in Florida," he said.
"How, so?" I pressed.
"I experienced too much racial profiling here," the black man said.
Florida is infamous for the Trayvon Martin slaying. Florida is a "stand-your-ground" state. And the young black man in the sauna said he felt safer there than in Duluth. I was astonished and saddened, but his story was in keeping with others I have heard.
Our family moved to Duluth from Chicago in 1993. When the moving van arrived at our new home, a longtime and dear friend of mine who had relocated to Duluth some years earlier came to help with the settling in. He noted that several of the men from the moving company were people of color.
"I wish they'd all stay in Chicago," he commented.
I was flabbergasted. He would not say such a thing now, but I've heard the same sentiment many times during our years here.
Both my wife and I have been involved in various ministries in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago, on the south and west sides. My wife regularly drove van loads of black children to visit their mothers in prison. Anyone who has ever visited those neighborhoods would understand how it is that parents would not want their children to grow up in the midst of such blight and violence.
"Will she have to go to jail?" I wonder what that little boy worries about every night when he should be having sweet dreams.
The Rev. David Tryggestad of Duluth is a retired pastor.