Learning problem: Joe Miller is a white police officer in the Oakland Police Department. He is a husband and father to two kids, ages 8 and 10. He joined the police force to serve and protect the community. However, the tensions between the police and community are coming to a boiling point. One of Joe’s closest friends is African-American and is also from Oakland. Joe has a lot of respect for his friend. Recently, Joe and his friend have been discussing the racial tensions in the country and in Oakland, especially in regards to police treatment of black people. Before, the topic of race had never come up as an issue between them. However, he now finds himself caught between wanting to better understand his friend’s experience as a black male and his role as a white police officer. He wants to know how he can be an ally for black people in the community and thoughtfully approach conversations about race. Understanding how to be an ally for black people as a white police officer will contribute towards bridging the division between police and members of the community they’ve sworn to protect.
Arriving at this learning problem has come out of a series of conversations with experts who have worked in or studied criminal justice reform. At the beginning of the quarter, I was really interested in the learning problem people who were incarcerated experience after exiting prison. However, after a conversation with Cathy, a sociology PhD candidate, I began to understand that the solutions I had in mind would just be an added burden onto their long list of things to do in their process of reentry. After talking with other experts in reentry, I began to take interest in the issues which stem out of the racial tensions between police and black members of the community. I see this learning problem as addressing the very early stages of criminal justice as many black people are assumed they are guilty or doing something wrong because of the color of their skin. I listened to the stories of several adult black males who shared how they didn’t expect to reach adulthood. They shared about how when they stood on a corner, the police would often come by and assume they were doing something bad. Growing up under this type of fear, stress, and discrimination changes the way a person views themselves and has long-lasting effects on their lives.
I’ve been examining my current problem through research on perspective-taking, prejudice, and implicit bias. I did a reflection on a reading about implicit bias here and the nature of prejudice here. A quote which really stuck out to me about prejudice was “[Prejudice] is a judgment that resists facts and ignores truth and honesty. Thus, prejudice blinds one to the facts and creates a kind of poison in a relationship.” I have been thinking about this quote a lot in conjunction with Paolo’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and how education can be used to liberate the oppressor. I’ve also been digging into better understanding race theory and the power of narrative.
An existing solution which partially captures what I’m trying to achieve in terms of creating a safe space to examine one’s perceptions of others are T-groups. T-groups are in-person sessions where people discuss and reflect on how they internally feel while also hearing from others what their perception of that person is. I’ll likely try to attend one of these sessions in the future. For my own project, I’m interested in developing a narrative-driven game to have the player experience “living a day in another person’s shoes.”
How might we create space for the learner to recognize and reflect on their perceptions of others In a way that is non-threatening or judgmental? How might we create space for the learner to realize how others may perceive them due to race, gender, or position? What skills does the learner need to become an effective ally for marginalized communities?