This New Wickedness

Arm around

"The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer."
James Baldwin

We are all waking up. Going to work. School. Doing laundry. Taking naps. We are looking to get warm. Do good. Help out. Understand.

My years long interest in public education and what that means as far as access relies pretty heavily in my belief in systems. For the most part, it's a crappy thing to believe in. Systems fail us or our neighbors almost every day. Recently, my community has been having a conversation about who deserves access to what, as it pertains to public school. We have this amazingly brave and bold policy in Portland Public Schools called the Racial Equity Education Policy. The board adopted it several years ago and they have been painstakingly bringing the practices of our system in line with the policy. The policy basically states that all decisions need to be made with an equity lens: who has been historically negatively affected by the decisions we make? Who will be disproportionately affected by these decisions? It's goals are to reduce the achievement and behavior gap between historically under-served populations and white students. It is noble. It is REALLY hard to implement.

"Great!" You say. "I'm all for racial equity!"

Well. It's really hard to move systems that favour privilege without making people really uncomfortable. Portland is exceptionally bad at it. Generally. If it favours the liberal masses, the bearded cyclists, the multilingual vegetarians, or the boutique environmentalists, <other pacific northwest cliche>… Well, bring it on. If it instead, favours the poor, the black or brown, the disenfranchised….?

Get in line.

"We want you! We just need to make sure you don't make us uncomfortable!"

This is a problem. Policy props up privilege. It often legitimizes the very worst of intentions. In Portland, the policies of red lining and racial discrimination are built into our systems. What's worse, our celebrated individualism has created a system of "choice" in our schools, in our gentrifying neighborhoods, and in our legal system that favours only the people who know how to use it.

But you don't live here.

I get that.

But my guess is that you live somewhere that is held together with systems built to favour privilege. Your courts, your city council, your PTA (mine too!) is probably built on the status quo. And the status quo is usually nasty.

A friend of mine who works in the juvenile justice system, says that it's nearly guaranteed that if your parents are able to hire a lawyer for a first offense, you will almost never see the inside of a detention center. Pity those who's parents cannot.

There are terrible, terrible scenarios of justice miscarried in this country (and everywhere). They are framed as outliers and extenuating circumstances and the narrative around "just doing his/her job". In the face of this, here's what I'm asking, begging, pounding on the floor for you to do: challenge the system that works for you. Ask WHO loses when you benefit. (Win-win scenarios are almost always in the eye of the beholder.) Unpack your privilege. Drop the bootstraps. Put yourself in the shoes of Tamir Rice's mother, Eric Garner's wife or John Crawford's children. Ask WHY the system works for you. Get yourself really uncomfortable. Let yourself get angry.

This might only work if you deeply love people who are marginalized by the system. I mean, like, really LOVE and care for them. If you don't, then add that to your list.

"Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."
Benjamin Franklin


Take yourself out of line. Make room. Cry out. Do better.


  1. I am often filled with shame and regret with how little I knew or cared about privilege and until I REALLY LOVED and cared for people who didn’t have it. I will spend the rest of my life trying to make up for it.


  2. thank you for this. I’m not sure how I will be able to do what you say, but I will try, very hard, to. somehow, though not ever having known or met you, I find your words wise, healthy and very, very moving.
    thank you sharing. and exposing. it helps to hear your voice among the cacophony.


  3. My heart is aching reading this. I send my fair-skinned, blonde-haired boy to school and do my best to teach him and his younger, also blonde-haired brother, to be kind to all, to see friends not differences, to stand up, to be allies, to befriend those who need friends, to understand that we don’t all live the same life, have the same choices in our homes, in our society. I try not to shelter them or myself. This world, this society, it is ripping open my heart every day. And so it should, until it is right, until it is fair, whenever that day comes.


  4. thank you, melissa, for your hard work, your love, and your voice. we all need to hear this. we can all do better, always. i know i can and need to. it’s a big part of what i think about when i look at my little white boy running around our house. all the things he will likely never have to fear. but all that we can (and must!) teach him (and ourselves). thank you for this. always. xo


  5. You’ve reduced me to tears and I’m so dreadfully sorry that I’m not in a position, from half a world away to make a difference in your neighbourhood. I don’t understand how things like this can happen time and time again. I’m not a stupid person, but I don’t understand how colour can mean fear for what seems to be so many. Don’t they just see a child, a person? No matter the colour, how can they shoot a child, choke a man, how is it possible that those we ask to protect us can do these things and not be held accountable. Something is so dreadfully wrong. I speak up in my own community, perhaps I don’t speak loudly enough for all, perhaps I speak of positions of comfort, about issues that don’t really change lives. I will try harder, I will be better informed and I will seek to make a change for those who need it.


  6. I love this blog, I love this blog, I love this blog. Thank you for not going away. I know you probably don’t always feel like it, but this is such brave and important stuff. I’m so so so glad I get to read it.


  7. Just found your blog through a different one.
    I work as a social worker for public defenders in sw washington. I work with the parents whose kids are in foster care.
    I could say A LOT, but won’t. It can be a very defeating job working on the side of the under-dog and seeing such hardship, but I am so glad to be the face of someone who cares and cheers them on…no matter the outcome to be known as someone who cares.


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