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?
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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.

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