Schooling Bristol Palin About Respecting Authority

Dear Bristol,

You seem like a well intentioned and well meaning young woman. However, your commentaries on current events especially when it has to do with race is very naive and tunnel visioned. In my previous piece I wrote about you, I emphasized that you should not be slut shamed for your choices even though your views on contraception, sex and family planning are very contradictory and hypocritical. Clearly, whatever it is you are preaching about sex and contraceptives is not working for you. This is not a dig, but a fact. I offered you support and reiterated the position in which you owed no one an apology, not even your parents. You are a grown woman, you are financially independent and this is the predicament you find yourself in. You accepted it and and took it ‘on the chin’. You blamed no one but yourself and you are celebrating the life of your little girl. Congratulations and good for you.  You do not identify as a feminist as you associate feminism with something that is incongruent with your personal beliefs, and that’s fine. However, the feminist in me gives me the urge to speak on your behalf even though you didn’t ask for it. You are a woman, therefore you deserve the respect for your choices, even if you are very narrow minded when it comes to some things.

Yet given what you’ve been through, you still refuse promote the birth-control methods which could have prevented your pregnancies to begin with. Obviously, abstinence only education doesn’t work, yet you express outrage when public schools take proactive methods such as giving out contraceptives to prevent teenage pregnancy.

Your reaction to the brutal handling of a schoolgirl in Spring Valley High School in South Carolina is another case of your naivete stemming from your White privilege and tunnel vision. And it’s worth pointing out because a lot of White people express similar views as you, not knowing how damaging your views are to children of color who are from an underprivileged background.

Your statement in full states:

I can’t believe this, when are we going to look at what KIDS are doing wrong? Instead of instantly blaming police and higher authority?

I know my son would leave a classroom if he was told to, so why didn’t this student? Do parents teach their kids now to question authority? That they must be the victim?

I don’t know the full situation – none of us do, but this just makes me sick. When will parents take full responsibility for their kids, teach them not to act like punks, and listen to AUTHORITY – no matter what their race is.

First of all, this girl is in foster care, so effectively she has no parents. You made an immediate assumption about her lack of parenting based on her behavior. You made this assumption based on how you were parented and expected to behave. You must know that not everyone comes from a comfortable middle class, two-parent home such as yourself. You had the consistency and structure growing up which would then lead you to have proper respect for authorities.

About blaming the police, yes, the officer deserves blame. He’s the adult, the student is a child. An adult is not supposed to lose their cool when disciplining children, even unruly children. More importantly, as an adult, someone of authority or someone in uniform should never lay a hand on a child, ever. And he didn’t just lay a hand on her, he dragged her across the room like a rag doll, for refusing to put down her cell phone and leave the classroom as instructed (I’ll get to her behavior later). There are  no ‘buts’ here, no excuses can be allowed. But he could have been having a bad day – too bad, you are in charge of keeping children safe, check your personal baggage at the front door. But the student’s behavior and surly attitude was really awful, it could make anyone steamed up, too bad – you are the adult, you are the person in uniform, you are supposed to maintain order and keep everyone calm and cool. There are a thousand and one ways to deal with an unruly teenager which does not involve physical violence but he chose the easiest way, which is to totally blow his top and lose his temper. He got himself fired in the process and he deserves to be. There is no place for that kind of behavior in schools.

I know my son would leave a classroom if he was told to, so why didn’t this student? Do parents teach their kids now to question authority? That they must be the victim?

Bristol dear, you absolutely DO NOT know if your son would leave the classroom had he been asked. You just think he would based on who he is now, which is a darling cherubic 6 year old boy who adores his mama. Fast forward 10 more years, he will not be the same cherubic little boy, he will still adore his mama but he will be a complicated young man on the cusp of young adulthood processing a million emotions a minute and you mix teenage hormones in there, there’s no telling what he would do at any given time in the day. You were 16 years old not too long ago, I don’t need to remind you how difficult those years are.

‘Do Parents teach their kids now to question authority?’ No, they don’t (at least no sane parent would), but the sole purpose for a teenager’s existence is to question authority and push the boundaries whenever and wherever they can. It’s their job to annoy the shit out of their parents to see how much of their crap they can take, it’s part of growing up. I did it and so did you.

As for the ‘victim’ blaming, that’s uncalled for. This student who got dragged across the room is a ‘victim’ in every definition of the word. And if that happened to your son, even if he grew to be a big strapping 16 year old and he got abused by a police officer like that (regardless of what he did to provoke the attack), he is a victim. And if that happens, you will be so angry, you will charge into the principal’s office to demand to know exactly what did a 16 year old kid do to deserve this treatment. At that time, it will not matter one jot to you what your son did to deserve this treatment, whatever he did, you will deal with him on your own at home, but for another to lay a hand on your child is unacceptable. But you see, this girl has no ‘parents’, she has no advocate in the form of her parents, she’s in foster care and we don’t know how long she’s been in foster care or how many times she’s been in and out of foster care.

You judged her behavior to her lack of proper parenting, perhaps you are right. Perhaps she wasn’t parented well. You don’t know this girl’s family background, socio-economic background and you don’t know what her life has been like from age zero to 16. This doesn’t excuse her behavior but it explains her behavior. You don’t know what other personal issues she’s dealing with as a result her being placed in foster care (perhaps not for the first time).  All of the above can contribute to disruptive behavior at school. Poverty, inconsistent parenting, family instability affect children terribly and so they act out. However, when they do, it’s up to the teachers, school counselors and protection officers to help her correct her behavior, not drag her across the floor and causing her serious injuries for refusing to put down her cell  phone and leave the classroom.

You finish with the oft repeated line by White people ‘I don’t know the full situation’ – no you don’t. You know nothing about the girl’s background besides she’s black and was misbehaving in school that day. The assumption that in your tone is the girl must have done something to deserve this, so perhaps the police officer overreacted, but he wouldn’t just do that, he must have been provoked, therefore she bears some responsibility. Yes, the police officer was most definitely provoked, his reactions show it, but he shouldn’t have been. He, as the adult in this situation, should have maintained his cool and if for any reason he’s unable to do so, it’s his responsibility and duty as an adult to remove himself from the situation and stay away until he’s able to control himself.

Your implication of ‘had she just done what she was told, none of this would happen’, this is typical victim blaming. Would you tell a battered wife, if she just did as she was told by her husband, she wouldn’t be beaten? Or an abused child, if they just obeyed their parents more, then they wouldn’t get beaten? Since when is laying a hand on another person an acceptable way to resolve a conflict? This isn’t a street fight where guns and knives are involved, this is an unruly girl, in a school classroom, who decided she was going to act like a ‘punk’ that day. Why? Because she feels like it and she’s 16 years old. It’s almost required of her, it’s her job description. A 16 year old girl is not responsible for the actions of adults and people in authority, regardless of how bad her behavior is, regardless of how badly she provoked him.

And lastly you bring up ‘race’, that pesky little thing everyone is talking about these days. The stain which is on our collective conscience that people just won’t shut up about. As if ignoring ‘race’ will make it better or make it go away. As if everything existed in a vacuum and race was introduced to mess everything up.

What if the scenario was reversed, what if Ben Fields was black and the student he dragged across the floor was a small petite white girl, for refusing to put down her cell phone and leave the classroom? How do you think that will go down for the black police officer? There will be no ‘excuses’ made for the black police officer, that’s for sure. People will assume him to be a brute, reduce him to a stereotype of an angry aggressive black man, they won’t even bother to hold an ‘investigation’ and get ‘his side of the story’, he’d be fired on the spot, charges would be filed against him by the DA and his career in law enforcement would effectively be over. The media definitely won’t say, well, it’s not about race because he’s dating a white woman. Which, by the way, is the dumbest excuse I’ve ever heard. The actions of Ben Fields can’t be about race, because why? Wait for it, he’s dating a black woman, therefore he must not be racist.

Maybe he isn’t racist, maybe it isn’t about race, maybe he really was just having an awful day and this girl refusing to get up out of her seat and go to detention or whereever she was supposed to go was the last straw for him that day so he lost it. Whatever the reason, he should know as a White male police officer, he is in the privileged and dominant position of authority. His actions will be judged regardless of what his thought process is. Brutalizing a young black girl in a classroom by a White police officer will come across like a race thing whether he likes it or not, and that’s the burden he has to carry for having White privilege.

So, next time, before you feel the urge to type whatever comes to your head. Think about it for a bit. More importantly, try to think about it from the point of view of someone besides yourself. Know how privileged and lucky you are, most teenage mothers plunge into poverty and most likely stay there. You were spared that fate because of your family. You were presented career opportunities and money making opportunities that women your age don’t normally get. You are the exception, not the rule.

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