What Mentors Say When Another Unarmed Black Man is Killed by the Police

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I had just finished a phone discussion with a trainer who was looking to provide a training for mentors serving African American males…

How apropos for a society so recently filled with Black male success rhetoric; charter schools, boys of color initiatives, my brothers keeper…and then I turn on the news….

Another unarmed Black man shot in cold blood, video captures the dramatic scene, assailant is shot in the back 8 times as he turns to run from the officer, outrage expressed as Black community points and says “it happens all the time, why can’t America see what we see?”.

And then, back to the phone conversation….”We are looking for folks who already mentor Black males, as this training assumes that they have had basic mentoring training. We want to help them increase their efficacy with the Black male population”….

See, we aren’t sending our youth the correct message… We want you to be successful, rise up out of the situation that you are in by gaining access to higher education where, by the way, we will teach you that dominant forms of oppression and suppression are the norm, that those other Black people are at fault for their status since they haven’t done what you have, that if you just have a mentor, which studies show tend to be harder to find if you are a Black in college, you can make it…

But, let’s get other Black people in suits and bow ties to put on programming for you, help you feel safe and secure in this white world. Let’s have them tell you that capitalist, dominant ideology is definitely the way to go, since alternatives are impossible and pulling your pants up and speaking properly at least gets you a bit further up the chain. Oh and by the way, those daily killings of unarmed Black men are aberrant, they are not the norm, and besides, those Blacks weren’t wearing suits with bow ties, they didn’t have their pants pulled up, they wore black hoodies, they spoke out of turn, they resisted arrest, they were poor and indigent, they asked really menacing questions like “why are you pulling me over”, they looked scary, they were scary, they did not take the proper steps necessary to appear harmless. While we are about the task of showing you how to set yourself apart from those other Negroes, lets be sure you are completely fixed on the so-called American Dream, bought into the idea that having money, is in fact the answer, so that you work your entire life trying to adapt to a dominant idea that really isn’t suited for ANY of us.

But now I have really strayed, lets get back to the title of this piece. What do mentors say when another unarmed Black man is killed by the police? What happens when our newly funded programs, with sexy rhetoric, appealing to education reformers and philanthropic do-gooders finally meets and we have to look into the eyes of a group of young Black men who just watched the news…who just saw the same video clip that you saw, who may have witnessed something like that in person, who may even be dealing with PTSD because this is his daily reality?

What do mentors say then? What does it mean then to “encourage” and “support”, to “talk with” and “listen to”? Why aren’t mentors “questioners of”, “challengers of” or “critical about”…When will mentor trainings include “how to have conversations with your mentees about surviving interactions with the police”. When will trainings include “how to help your mentees navigate PWI’s (predominately white institutions) who say they want diversity, but can’t move beyond a white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal and cis-hetero idea of what education is and will, more than likely, accuse him or her of being racist should they ever gather enough nerve to challenge it. When will these trainings include topics like “mentoring for liberation” or “challenging the meta-narrative in mentoring”. What about a training on “participatory action mentoring” or “critical mentoring”?

And yes, I do realize that I still haven’t made suggestions for what mentors should say, but I have noted the things they should not say and though I am completely confident that I could give you a list of carefully worded cliches to use, the point of this post is to suggest that we must move beyond the rhetoric and into active resistance and that we can no longer just encourage youth, but we must join them in this struggle and finally, we have to stop asking them to adapt and begin partnering with them to transform.

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