In the story of the Texas pool party, where a police officer was caught on tape manhandling and pointing a gun at young black teenagers, there's a lot to be concerned and outraged about. But there's also one tiny thing to celebrate: the actions of two white kids.
Just 14 and 15 years old, they wasted no time speaking on the record about the racist comments made by adults that they said set off the incident, and recording the discriminatory treatment they said they witnessed.
Sadly, when it comes to public opinion about the event, it's likely that these accounts have more weight coming from the white kids than from the black kids who have offered similar stories, but whom many media consumers might see as potential criminals and untrustworthy reporters of what happened.
Their stories shaped the early media narrative of the event, and their sense of responsibility to memorialize what happened should be seen as an example. Many American adults could learn something from their brave decisions to acknowledge rather than avoid or explain away the injustice they saw, but also to make sure the rest of us understood.
The white teens are the reason we're even hearing about this
According to BuzzFeed News's David Mack's report on the incident, Grace Stone, a white 14-year-old, said when she and her friends responded to white adults' comments that the black pool party guests should return to "Section 8 [public housing]," the older women became violent.
The police were called, and Brandon Brooks, a white 15-year-old, took out his cellphone to record what happened next — creating a record of the event that he later posted to YouTube, along with this commentary: "So the cops just started putting everyone on the ground and in handcuffs for no reason. This kind of force is uncalled for especially on children and innocent bystanders."
"I think a bunch of white parents were angry that a bunch of black kids who don't live in the neighborhood were in the pool," he told BuzzFeed. He made it clear that he felt he was spared because of his race, saying, "Everyone who was getting put on the ground was black, Mexican, Arabic. [The cop] didn't even look at me. It was kind of like I was invisible."
"You can see in part of the video where he tells us to sit down, and he kinda like skips over me and tells all my African-American friends to go sit down," he said in a Monday interview with CW33.
They weren't alone. Images from protests in McKinney show demonstrators including a white teen holding a sign that read "White silence = white consent."
These kids decided addressing racism was their business
Stone's choice to speak about the racist comments she witnessed, and Brooks's decision to post his recording and analysis on YouTube and give an interview about what he observed, represents an unusual commitment to honesty about racism and discrimination — topics many white adults don't see through the same lens.
For example, a November 2014 Pew poll revealed that nearly half of white Americans thought race got too much attention in the discussion surrounding 18-year-old Michael Brown's death at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. When asked about confidence in police to not use excessive force on suspects, 36 percent of white respondents expressed a great deal of confidence, compared with 18 percent of black respondents.
And in October 2014, the Washington Post reported on an analysis of years of polling by Harvard University professor Michael I. Norton, who found that 56 percent of black people but only 16 percent of white people said they believed there was "a lot" of discrimination in America. White people were more likely than not to say they thought anti-white discrimination had become a bigger problem than bias against blacks.
When you consider the well-documented social, economic, and political injustices against black people that have been committed both with and without the backing of the legal system, this looks like willful ignorance, and it can be infuriating.
That's why when Walter Scott, a 50-year-old unarmed black man, was shot in the back and killed by Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager, Tim Wise (a white author who focuses on anti-racism) wrote this on his public Facebook page in response to those who insisted race had nothing to do with the tragedy:
I know there are some well-meaning (as well as not well meaning) white folks who say how awful the killing of Walter Scott was "regardless of the racial element," but please... When we as white folks strip away the social context within which these things happen, or refuse to acknowledge the generations-long soul wound imposed by racism upon peoples of color, we speak as if history didn't happen, as if historical memory doesn't matter, as if every day is disconnected from the last, and patterns are irrelevant. We speak, in other words, as persons with the privilege of ignoring the backbeat of white supremacy, as persons who enjoy the luxury of viewing life as a collection of random experiences, and ourselves are mere individuals floating through that life. How nice. People of color have not the luxury of such a conceit ...
The kids' reactions were encouraging. Take note, adults.
Outside of the context of American racism, what the kids did wouldn't really be a big deal: they saw that other kids their age were being wronged, and they told the truth about what happened. But against the backdrop of a society in which many adults both perpetuate racism and go to great lengths to deny it, their reactions stood out.
Brooks, who got out his phone to record the incident, even recognized and admitted that he was benefiting from his race by being able to loiter around without being antagonized or arrested. Meanwhile, Stone, 14, told a reporter about the racist comments that she said started the whole event, adding essential context to what had previously been characterized as just "a fight."
In this way, Stone and Brooks weren't just standing up for the black kids at the pool; they were also, hopefully, setting an example — and maybe, if we're really optimistic about their generation — predicting the future.