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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

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Let's Panic

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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Let's go

After Michael Brown was murdered, I started reading. I heard the voices of my friends, rising up in rage. I read voices that were new to me and thought, that’s what needs to get read. This particular white lady should shut up and listen. But I also felt that silence implied an implicit acceptance of the terrible crimes committed—against Michael Brown, against Eric Garner, against Trayvon Martin, against Renisha McBride. And on, and on. This is unacceptable. 


Henry is almost twelve. (Time marches inexorably and mercilessly forward; our amazement in the face of this reality grows exponentially with each passing day). He is learning to navigate this world without my company. He walks around the neighborhood by himself. He runs errands for me; he visits friends; he accompanies said friends to buy ice cream or run around the park. Once they are out there, set free, I am sure they occasionally make too much noise. Out on the sidewalk, crossing a street, I can see at least one prim-faced adult shaking their head at the rowdiness of today’s youth. 

As he outgrows his little-boyness and stretches toward the light, I worry about him getting into trouble. But “trouble,” for me, means, oh, that he might get arrested. His inherent goodness might be impugned. We might have to go to family court; he might be traumatized. These are the consequences that actually concern me, if I bother to consider them in any real way. 

I never worry that a police officer is going to assume he’s a thug and shoot him. 

He’s a good kid. I know he is. But no one else has any reason to know that. They assume it and they will continue to assume it, because he is white. He enjoys the absurd privilege of being, by default, a good kid until proven otherwise. 

If he were black, it would be the reverse. And I would be scared as hell. 

Back when Henry was a baby, there was a rash of violent muggings in our neighborhood. Beat cops were assigned to practically every corner. We lived in a co-op at the time, and at one of our meetings, we were discussing the weird police state in which we now lived. One of us concluded that although it was unnerving having so many cops around, at least we were safer. 

One of our neighbors, a black woman, set us straight. It wasn’t safer for her; it was terrifying. Her two teenage sons, who couldn’t have been more than 13 and 15, were stopped every day. They were harassed if they sat on the stoop with their friends. 

She would have been well within our rights to call us out on our utter cluelessness, but instead she only asked us to help, if we saw the cops giving either of her boys a hard time. She asked us to confirm that they lived in the neighborhood. That they belonged. 

Never mind that they were good kids, who went to good schools. That doesn’t matter. They could have been drinking, they could have been troublemakers, they could have been teenagers acting like dopey teenagers. They were supposed to have that right. Instead, they were being treated like criminals solely because they were black. They were children, they were innocent, and they were afraid to step outside. 

We enthusiastically agreed, back then, to provide whatever help was needed, but I remember wanting to do more than play the role of white saviors. Didn’t our stepping in also imply tacit acceptance of the system? I didn’t know what to do. Riot, maybe. Take to the streets. March until our feet bled. 

Then, you know, the muggings stopped, the police presence diminished, and our lives went on. I stopped worrying over the inherent racism in the system designed to protect us. This was also a privilege that I enjoyed. 

But of course it never stopped. It’s still going on, all around us, everywhere. And it is an obscenity. That’s the only word I can come up with. That parents live in fear for their children is an obscenity. That there is even a discussion over whether Mike Brown’s homicide was justified is an obscenity. 

Innocent people are assaulted and murdered because of their skin color. This is something beyond an obscenity. I don’t have words for it. I don’t know how to make it stop. But I’m ready to fight. I'm ready to find out where we go from here, because we can't stay here. 

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Reader Comments (14)

amen, finslippy. amen. my boy is asian. he's only 4 but as he gets older, he will likely enjoy same privilege that henry does (I think). but you're right. it's obscene, beyond obscene that parents have to worry about the lives of their children based on their skin color. what can we do to change this? I want to know.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteralissa

"I'm ready to find out where we go from here, because we can't stay here."

Amen. I want there to be an easy answer to this, but there isn't. I'm glad though that we're still thinking about it even when the media leaves and attention moves on. This isn't going away. It's going to take work just to understand what we need to do in order to know what we need to do. I wish it wasn't so nebulous.

It's heartening though that so many are talking to their kids about this stuff. I suspect these talks have always been happening the families with kids of color, but I think this is the first generation of white kids who might understand white privilege and inequity and institutionalized racism and micro aggressions in ways that we were never taught as children. Maybe it'll make a difference that we can't even imagine.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJenny, Bloggess

Beautifully put. I have been struggling what to write about any of it, because I feel I must say something, but cannot think of anything worthy to add. I am so destroyed by the fact that people want to be so willfully ignorant. I wish I knew what to do.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKorinthia

Alice, you speak the truth. It has been frustrating and maddening to see the side of people that I thought I knew via FB updates and IRL conversations regarding Michael Brown. It makes me sad that it is Michael Brown who is being held up to inspection over his death. Everything makes me sad, and adding fuel to all of this is how people still say that only racists talk about race. In the face of statistics that prove the inequality of treatment of POC by law enforcement. With video showing more times than is believable, the excessive use of force on POC. There is racism, there is prejudice, there is discrimination, there is the ugly truth that we all can see as truth IF we just listen, read, and if it' too hard for someone to believe yet, then consider. CONSIDER the possibility that people are telling the truth about what life for them is like in America.

September 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteralexandra rosas

Hear hear!

September 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

I connected with this more than anything else I've read on the subject. Thank you.

September 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSFDC

Yeah, NYC. It's stop and frisk land. I like to think that maybe New Yorkers voted in this new regime as a way to make change after this repression of communities of color. But stop and frisk hasn't ended under De Blasio! At least as far as I can tell. (I don't live in New York but I follow the Twitter feed on Stop and Frisk.)

Anyway, here's a link in case people don't know what Stop and Frisk is:

I guess I mention this because you live in Brooklyn.

It's not as tragic to be stopped as it is to be shot but it is an indicator of who counts in America.

Also, note that if you are black (or Latino) you have a much higher risk of going to prison for stuff that white people get away with. Young kids do all kinds of stupid stuff but the young black and Latino kids get expelled from school or go to jail.

This is a good piece--I know you know about this stuff and you can't talk about everything! I was just blathering on some other things that really suck.

It's an obscenity. It is an obscenity. That's a good way to describe it Alice.

And it's terrifying for young men but you know--they also kill older black men. And they kill black women at higher rates than they kill white women. They killed Eric Garner and he wasn't a kid. It's just so hard even to wrap your mind around it. Some of the things you read about like that guy who got shot in Walmart for holding a toy gun even though Ohio is an open carry state--he didn't have time to react because who expects the police to descend on you in the toy department? They just shot him right down.

It's obscene. Yes, that's a good word for it.

September 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterozma

Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for this. Those of us with privilege have to recognize it, use it for good, help to dismantle systems of oppression, and be quiet and listen when necessary. I am hapa, with a white husband, and I know my son will appear to everyone around him as white. I am going to do my darndest to raise him to question that and all the systems that make it a position of privilege.

We have so much work to do. Our world is beyond appalling right now. But I am confident that our boys will be the ones helping to make things better.

September 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterR

Thank you for writing this!!!

September 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLiz A

It is a sad state of affairs, but I can't think of anything I can do...except question the assumptions of people who propagate the behavior and teach my daughter to judge by character rather than appearance. That doesn't seem like enough, but the first part is incredibly wearisome.

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered Commentera

I have been thinking about your post since the day you posted it. Your thoughts really resonate with me. There are no words. It is such a sad state of affairs. We need to be mindful of the reality that you speak of. Let's go!

September 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLori

Thank you for articulating this in such a perfect way. Thank you. I want to fight. I want to march. I want to fix this.

September 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSara

You are a beautiful soul, Alice. I know you don't write here much anymore. But I sure wish you did. I miss your writing! Thanks for writing this.

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

Last night 2 NYPD officer were assasinated while sitting in thier police unit. Michael Brown was shot while (TWICE) assaulting a cop who was inside his unit, and tried to take his gun. Brown had also just assaulted a tiny store owner and robbed him.

I will wait for your outrage over assasinated cops, rather than defense of criminal dirtbags.

You needen't worry for your child's safety.. he's been raised properly, and I would assume, with respect for what's right. Too bad Michael Brown wasn't.

December 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDarlene

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