Editor’s Note: We were on our way to print with this issue when George Floyd was killed at the hands of police and the country surged in collective pain and protest. This article is excerpted from “The View from Black America” (November/December 2015, America’s Conversation about Race).
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I’ve spent the last four decades of my life working with young Black people who feel trapped in a wall-less prison, who live their lives hidden in the shadows of invisibility as far as white society is concerned. They know all too well that their daily experience—whether it’s going to underfunded schools, absorbing constant microaggressions, or being the victims of discrimination and police brutality—doesn’t matter unless it interferes with or disrupts the lives of the white mainstream. While deeply rooted in the racial fabric of our country’s history, life inside the wall-less prison remains a mostly untold story.
Black kids know perfectly well how they’re perceived by white society: they’re threatening thugs and future criminals who need to be contained by any means necessary. Isn’t this the prevailing sentiment that undergirds the…