Thursday, May 14, 2020

Meet Amy Nickerson, Author of How Do You See Us? (Part II)

Since May 4, 2020, when the first of this two part Q&A was posted, news has surfaced of another Black American's life has been taken under circumstances that can be described as dubious at best. Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, who according to his family was simply our for his daily jog when he was chased down and fatally shot by armed white residents of a South Georgia neighborhood. The father and son vigilantes were arrested months later, only after the public was made aware of the situation and rallied to bring the men to justice. Such acts of violence reiterate the relevance of books like How Do you See Us? 
      This post continues the dialog with the books author Amy Nickerson, M.A. She is an author, television and film content creator, lecturer, educational consultant, and diversity/inclusion/anti-racism advocate. She's also wife of former NFL player and coach, Hardy Nickerson, and mother to their three grown-up children. Amy recently published her first book entitled How Do You See Us? Timely, now more than ever, she recently shared her story and reflections on authorship in a Valerie's Vignettes Q&A. This is the second of a two part story. 

Q6: How do you feel your work can change perceptions of black and multicultural children and families?
Visit the site, here.
A6. The work that has to be done to change perceptions of black and multicultural children never ceases. And that work, although we keep chipping away at stereotypes, etc. , seems to never
eradicate the problem. I am still dealing with the same types of prejudice and negative perceptions of our people that my parents did. Perhaps not to the same degree outwardly, but it is still in existence. So we continue to fight. To educate. I hope that my book will shed light on the fact that no one is immune from being perceived as a threat. I explain in my book that, in our case, we were an NFL family living in affluent neighborhoods and living very privileged lives, but in never mattered when, in an instance, our color became our main descriptor and nothing else. We were lumped into a pile of potential criminals or thieves. Our stories are not unique – I know too many other families with similar stories. And I also know many other high profile people of color that these types of encounters happened to. So I am bringing nothing new to the forefront, but what I do hope is that my candid presentation of what happened to us and how it happened, and my beliefs as to Why these encounters occurred, can help white people understand their role in this. Hopefully, some will read the book and come away with a sense of compassion and empathy, and maybe they can share or discuss with their friends and family, which might illuminate some issues and possibly create better outcomes in the future.

Q7: What makes your family unique, yet universal enough that your experience can resonate with others?

A7. My family is, first and foremost, a Black family. I don’t feel we are particularly unique. Of
course, black families are not monolithic and there are many “types” of black families. I do
think that our experiences have put us in a category that separates us from the “norm.” Having
been in professional sports settings and circles (husband played in the NFL for 16 years and
also coached for NFL and college), we are probably not what most would consider your
“average” Black family. The uniqueness comes from the opportunities that we were afforded
(not unlike other famous or affluent black families). My son also followed in dad’s footsteps and is also is a player in the NFL right now. That is fairly unique. Still, when it comes down to it, we
look like everyone else (Black people). From just looking at us, we are simply seen as Black
people. And that is where I feel that we are universal and resonate with others. As I’ve said in
the book, regardless of socioeconomic status, schooling, geography, etc., what most people see
immediately is black or brown skin, and for many, this can trigger a negative response. That I
know is something that resonates with so many others. So whether it’s my famous husband
who is pulled over by a cop, or the cook from Popeye’s Chicken, or the black mayor of a city, or
the black kid on his way to school wearing a hoodie, or the pastor of a church, we are often
“seen” through tainted lenses and with the expectation that we are capable of crimes or being
dangerous. These experiences all share the same common denominator and are what makes
our family universal enough to resonate with so many others.

Q8: Why do you feel your book has been so successful in such a short period of time?  
A8. I am thrilled that the book debuted as an Amazon Bestseller and I hope that its success continues. The main comments that I keep receiving from those interested in the book or people who have purchased it and already read it is – “It is timely” and a “Must read”. I think it is so successful because we still have not seen these problems of being viewed as threats within society diminish at all, and it is on everyone’s minds. Every day. The book, while sharing what happened to us specifically, resonates with other people of color who are also weary from the day to day stress of being aware that they could be falsely accused of a crime, or are often perceived to be something that they are not. I write about the heavy burden that exists from having to always anticipate and prepare for potential encounters with police (or others trying to police us – think of all of the hashtags that we know of), and the wear and tear that is felt in our minds and our bodies. I think many, many black people and people of color are TIRED and hope things will change, and my book is speaking their language concerning everything that is happening in real time.
Q9: Are you familiar with Rudine Bishop Simms’ famous discussion of  “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Doors”?  Does it resonate in any way with the premise of How Do You See Us? If so, how, and why?
A9. I am not extremely familiar with Rudine Bishop Simms’ discussion of Windows, Mirrors and
Sliding Doors. However, considering what I do know, I would say the element that resonates
with the premise of my book is not necessarily with respect to literacy or learning, but in terms
of there being mirrors and windows illuminating my experiences that I shared in the book.
With respect to windows, I think it is important for those who are responsible for so much harm to the communities of color (both police and others who continue to act as enforcers) to understand what is really going on and to realize that their actions based on fear and suspicion must stop. My book will hopefully present a window’s view of what life is like for so many of us and offer an opportunity for the dominant group to make concerted efforts to do better once they realize the amount of pain that is caused. Hopefully, others will read the book and gain empathy for what many people of color endure routinely and see the humanity of those of us who are not in their immediate frame. Additionally, while the stories in my book are not necessarily affirming or positive, they do confirm and validate the experiences of countless black and brown children and adults. It is important to provide realistic accounts of what is happening in our country today and to publicize the extent to which black people and people of color are often dehumanized and policed (and even killed) for being considered threats, simply because of the color of their skin. The book acts as a “mirror” for these shared experiences and is a testament to the racist behaviors and attitudes that are still in existence today and which continue to make us feel vulnerable and robbed of our life, liberty and sense of freedom.

Q10: Last, please share anything more you’d like to contribute to our discussion.

A10. I’d also like to add that, while my book focuses on issues of law enforcement and acts of
vigilantism by whites whom zealously overreact to our presence and attempt to police us, it
does not end there, obviously. The same question – How Do You See Us ?- must be asked about
education, healthcare, and many other areas of life. The same knee jerk responses to our black
and brown skin occur in all realms of life. We are often viewed as threats in just about any
situation at all – all we need to do is search the latest stories on Twitter and we will see
something else that has transpired as a result of white people refusing to accept our place in
this world. Much work needs to be done EVERY DAY to expose, teach and correct.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Meet Amy Nickerson, Author of How Do You See Us? (Part I)

Stories of questionable encounters between people of color and law enforcement continue, even in the age of the corona virus and covid-19. Increasingly, social distancing arrest investigations are making headlines in New York City. Sadly, such encounters are not new. But how do we effect change? One way is to speak up and unite in sounding the calls for change. One mom/educator is doing just that. 

 Introducing Amy Nickerson, M.A. She is an author, television and film content creator, lecturer, educational consultant, and diversity/inclusion/anti-racism advocate. She's also wife of former NFL player and coach, Hardy Nickerson, and mother to their three grown-up children. Amy recently published her first book entitled How Do You See Us? Timely, now more than ever, she recently shared her story and reflections on authorship in a Valerie's Vignettes Q&A, in the first of a two part story. 

Q1: Amy, please tell us a bit of your project’s background, why you wrote it and what you hope to achieve in doing so.

Learn more and order, here. 
A1. The book is a compilation of some stories (believe it or not, there are many more that I did not tell) about my family’s negative experiences with police and also people who tried to police us in various situations.  I have always shared my feelings on social media regarding the horrific stories such as the murder of Trayvon Martin, or Tamir Rice, or Sandra Bland, etc. These days, unfortunately, it seems that there is another story every week!  A friend who happens to train law enforcement officials in the area of  implicit bias and finding solutions around the barriers that exist between the black community and law enforcement had noticed a lot of my posts on social media, where I also had shared stories about what had happened to my son, or my husband.  He was adamant that my stories needed to be shared and urged me to start writing something.  So I began what was supposed to be a short essay that he could use to help his class at the FBI Academy better understand the feelings of someone non-white who had personally experienced negative encounters with police.  Once I began writing, though, it just grew because I had so much content and so much to say. I did not include every situation that had occurred with my family, but did share the most compelling, with the hopes that they could shed light on what really is happening all over the country, and also to detail the enormous amount of stress that anticipating hostilities from the police or others who racially profile us can cause.  It is literally making us sick!  I hope to validate the experiences of people of color who have been unfairly treated or policed, or who know deep within that many of their encounters were triggered by their skin color alone. I also wish to appeal to white America (and the world) to cease all of the racial profiling and assuming that black and brown people are synonymous with danger and pathology. 

Author Amy Nickerson
Q2: What is your posture as it relates to law enforcement as a person of color, and as a parent?

A2. As I state in my book, my position as it relates to law enforcement has always been to respect the law and to treat law officers with respect and to comply with their demands, as we know that it could be the difference between life and death if you do not obey or comply.  However, what scares me and infuriates me is that we have proof that one can be in complete compliance and still have his or her life taken, simply because the police officer claims that they “feared for their life” or because of any other dubious claim.  Statistics show that black people are stopped by police officers disproportionately to whites.  Given that knowledge, what can happen after the stop can be up in the air.  There are many professional police officers out there who do follow procedures and are not harmful to us, but there are far too many instances where black lives are viewed as “threatening” and then the encounter escalates.  My take is that there is not much one can do if an officer holds negative views of black people or if, for whatever reason, they perceive the person as a possible threat.  No matter what, I believe it is in your best interest to attempt to follow orders and give them the information they are asking for…..even when what they are demanding does not seem to be constitutional or seems to be excessive.  This is what I have continually taught our children, and still do, even though they are now adults.  And I describe the sense of urgency most black parents and parents of color feel regarding giving these instructions about engaging with law enforcement.  It can really be a matter of life or death!

Q3: In your book, How Do You See Us, do you offer suggestions about how families of Color should respond in their interactions with law enforcement?

A3.  In my book I don’t necessarily go through and offer suggestions, but what I do is recount all of the steps that my family has taken and has been instructed to take (and many others take) with the intention of protecting their families in the event they have to interact with the police.  I refer to “The Talk,” which is a somewhat universally understood reference to all of the warnings and protocols given to black children.  I also reiterate that, even though we often have “The Talk” and then review “The Talk” and then revise “The Talk” after each story we hear about in the news, it never seems to be enough.  Most families of color that I know have all held meetings with their children to explain the vulnerabilities and to give detailed instructions about what to do if stopped by the police – no sudden movements, act respectfully, say “Yes, Sir, No, Sir”, keep hands in full view, etc.  All of those things we relay to the children in hopes of preparing them for that possibility.  Yet, as we have seen with numerous examples in the media, compliance is never a guarantee that they will still not view you as a threat.  Still, the best we can hope for is to fully “arm” our kids with the proper steps to take by giving continual reminders about how they need to behave in the presence of law enforcement. My friend, Quentin Williams, who I refer to in the book, has written a book specifically for families of color to understand what to do if and when stopped by the police; it is called A Survival Guide: How NOT to get KILLED by the POLICE, PART I. His suggestions come from his experience as a black man who has been unfairly arrested by police, but who also is a former FBI agent and who currently trains law enforcement officials in the area of breaking barriers between cultures and races.

Q4: What do you feel is black and multi-racial children’s vulnerabilities and largest areas of risk?

A4. Black and multiracial children have numerous vulnerabilities and areas of risk.  One of the main issues, regardless of age, is that people of color tend to be perceived as threatening and suspicious far more than whites.  This can happen just about anywhere – at school, in a store, on public transportation, you name it.  So their very skin tone can be the attractor for negative attention, unfortunately.  Additionally, children of color often are denied “benefit of the doubt”, unlike most white children, so they have the cards stacked against them, so to speak, because their presumed innocence in matters is not always afforded them.  Another risk, especially concerning black boys, is the high probability that they will be viewed as being older than they really are.  For instance, Tamir Rice, who was gunned down within seconds of police addressing him about a gun, was described as being much older than he really was – 12.  When our children are perceived as being much older than they are, decisions that affect them are often made from a frame of reference that is not fair or accurate.  For example, something a young black child might be doing in public, unaware of the risks, could be interpreted as unlawful for adults to do, and if they are viewed as adults, then swift action occurs, before even getting the facts about age, etc.  Black and brown children, in general, are simply not valued to the degree that white children are, and this impacts police interactions and frequent accusations of guilt or suspicion.

Q5: Discuss the title and how you chose it. 

A5.  When I was first writing the outline for my book, which at the time was just an essay, I had not come up with a title yet.  Yet, I began watching the TV series by Ava DuVernay When They See Us?, which was about the infamous case of the five black boys in New York City who were accused of raping a white female jogger.  They were charged and then wrongfully incarcerated.  The title of the series really got me thinking about how unjust their treatment was and, at the root of it, was the “seeing” part – what negative things often materialize when they (whites) see us. This resonated with me and I had an Aha moment of my own – that mostly everything that I had wrestled with and that my family had wrestled with concerning racism and bad treatment had to do with HOW “they” saw us – what many thought of us when they saw us, how fearful they acted when they saw us, etc.   So I knew that I had to call the book How Do You See Us?  The illustration on the cover shows my family being viewed through dark glasses, and through the glasses the images are distorted, show completely different pictures of who we really are, and also show many, many more “scary” faces behind us, signifying the “multitudes” that are often described, when in reality, there may only be one or two.  Essentially, I am asking the white people who claim to be afraid of us How Do You See Us? and I imply that what it is they are “seeing” is distorted and viewed through faulty lenses.

To be continued in the next post, May 15, 2020 
Subscribe to the Valerie's Vignettes to have it come to your inbox.