Fun fact about me. I have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Before now I could count on one hand the number of people that knew this about me. I don't often reveal this fact about myself because I've never wanted it to seem like an excuse for any of my personal or professional shortcomings. That and to avoid having to educate the ill informed about whether not ADHD is "real."
Is this a debilitating condition? Absolutely not, but make no mistake: life. is. a. struggle. I often ask questions and don't pay attention to the answers. My wife has to remind me to "focus" lest it take me 2 hrs to fold a load of laundry. Sometimes organizing my thoughts is an excruciating task. Doing something I don't enjoy doing? Literally painstaking. People at work think I just like to stand, when it's really so my fidgeting doesn't get the best of me. My impulse control issues manifest as over eating that cause my weight to fluctuate wildly. ADHD is largely hereditary, so I had no say in the matter. No one chose to inhibit my executive functions.
This is why my heart aches for Flint. As a result of a man made decision the people of Flint ingested water with lead levels high enough to be classified as toxic waste for close to two years. All in the name of saving a buck. Even the local GM plant stopped using Flint river water because they deemed it too corrosive. Lead impairs brain function, especially in children. One of the most common disorders is ADHD, among other various learning disabilities. With the proper diagnosis and treatment this is a very manageable disorder.
But poor black children don't get to have manageable disorders, they are going to have a set of behavioral issues that our society has criminalized. They will get ushered into special Ed classes. They will get suspended for childhood infractions. They will get arrested in elementary school. Every one of these circumstances serving as on-ramps to the school to prison pipeline. No amount of apologies or empty promises will ever replace the potential robbed from these children.
It is impossible to remove race from this equation. Would complaints of brown, odorous water have fallen on deaf ears for two years in Ann Arbor? West Bloomfield? When the government can no longer afford to satisfy the public good the people who suffer the consequences are always the ones who exist on the margins. Most likely poor. More often than not black or brown. These adjectives embody Flint more than Donald Trump being a Fox News comments section given human form.
The book of James teaches us that words have power. What is a child to think of himself when society tells him it doesn't care about him by deliberately poisoning him at a time when he is at the mercy of choices beyond his control? What type of power is unleashed when that child internalizes that state apathy, and in turn, grows up not caring about himself? It is in this space where the seeds for mass incarceration are planted. I see yet another set of black children starting life with a negative balance. Set up to fail, only to have that failure blamed on a deficient cultural pathology. This is a song that is all too familiar.
We pray for Paris but poison Flint. Yet folks wonder why we demand recognition that #blacklivesmatter.