Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sleepless in Ferguson, Waking Up in Toronto

by Dean Dettloff

Two nights ago, on August 9th, I was checking my usual news sources and social media after being away from the internet for almost two weeks due to traveling. After taking planes and cars around North America, attending a best friend’s wedding and spending time with two newborn twin nephews, I quickly realized that yesterday was the anniversary of Mike Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri, an event which a year ago transformed my orientation to philosophy, religion, myself, and my world. I took some time to follow the difficult reflections from a variety of activists I became familiar with in the last year. Demonstrators gathered in Ferguson to mourn Brown's death and continue making sure he was remembered, and I watched as twitter was constantly updated with videos and photos of police in riot gear. I was ready to go to bed at a reasonable hour, back home, safe and sound in my own familiar bed in Toronto, when I started seeing reports that someone among the Ferguson protesters was shot.

I stayed up late watching reactions and hearing news in real-time from reporters and activists on the ground via twitter (a better strategy than waiting for Fox or CNN), anxious about new details. Who got shot? What were the police saying? Why did a man just get arrested for taking video of the shooting victim surrounded by armed officers? Having just finished reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book Between the World and Me, all this news hit me differently and even more profoundly than the news of Mike Brown's shooting a year ago.

A rush of thoughts paraded through my mind as I tried to finally fall asleep. What does it mean to be a white, American, Christian man studying philosophy in Canada at a place called “The Institute for Christian Studies,” working for the “Centre for Philosophy, Religion, and Social Ethics?” How will I explain the transformative months between August 2014 to August 2015 to my children? Am I allowed to comment on this? Who can I listen to in order to purge myself of the ways in which I participate in a systemically racist society? Should I really be worried about my own guilt when a black person was just shot? What headlines will I wake up to tomorrow morning? Will the activists I’m following be alive and out of jail (as it turns out, at least two ended up being arrested)? How many of these questions are hiding a deeper racism in myself that remains to be dealt with?

How many of these questions are hiding a deeper racism in myself that remains to be dealt with?