Saturday, September 29, 2018


Yesterday morning I sat downstairs while everyone else was asleep and I gradually became aware that the upstairs toilet was flushing. And flushing, and flushing. I didn’t hear any footsteps, so it didn’t appear that anyone was actually in the bathroom. But it was odd. Why would the toilet keep flushing itself?

Did I go upstairs to check on it? No. It was annoying and weird but it didn’t really seem like a big deal. Eventually my husband got up and did something and the perpetual flushing ceased.

There are some sounds that cause you to spring into action. The sound of breaking glass, for example, or a crying child, or the sound of a pet beginning to wretch (so I’m told). The sounds connect to a place in our brain that this is an emergency and we must act now. Other sounds, even if unexpected, don’t rise to the level of immediate action.

I have read a lot recently about how everyone agrees that over-development and school overcrowding are the main issues that voters in Howard County are concerned about this election season. For a variety of reasons, these are the things that have risen to emergency level status for many HoCo residents.

Masked by the din of of these issues is something deeply concerning that doesn’t get as much “airplay”: racial inequity. Specifically, I am talking about de facto segregation in where people live which leads to segregation in our schools. Allowing these systemic problems to continue without concerted intervention damages students in the here and now but also has an ongoing negative impact county-wide, far into the future.

(An aside here to explain what I mean by long term damage: if there had been women in positions of power everywhere through Brett Kavanaugh’s upbringing, and young women were empowered and defended in ways that put them on equal footing with young men, we would not be dealing with the overwhelming wave of men who believe that superiority is their birthright. What you grow up with, who is in your neighborhood, your schools, your social groups, who your authority figures are: all these things shape you for life.)

Many people whom I admire and respect are deeply concerned about over-development in Howard County and see a strong connection to school overcrowding, This is the emergency sound for them. They hear it and they spring into action. The continuing issues of racial inequity enters their consciousness as something troubling but not an emergency. Like the odd sound I heard upstairs in my house: sure, it was rather troubling and I would at some point have to do something about it. But I did not jump up and run to address it.

I’m including myself when I say that the mental triage that many white people unconsciously engage in is one that puts largely white issues at emergency status and those that affect people of color in the “we’ve got to get around to that...” category. And these are what most of us would call well-meaning people. Howard County also has a significant chunk of folks who aggressively deny issues of racial inequity. But if the end result of both groups is to do nothing, how much difference is there between the two?

If we are saying to our black and brown neighbors “I hear you” but they know full well that we are also saying  “but your concerns are not an emergency for me” then we harm our community relationships. We make our county weaker. And we make our future weaker.

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