What does it mean when a black man, a black woman, a black child cannot drive home, walk from the store, go up the stairs, enjoy a playground without being framed as a threat? We may not have signs that say Whites Only or Blacks Only in our stores and bathrooms anymore, but that doesn't mean this world belongs any more to Black people than it used to. Racism has crafted insidious new ways of fortifying itself in our nation, and by convincing white people that its symptoms (urban poverty, gang warfare, substance abuse, high incarceration rates, unjust police shootings, mental illness) root itself in black culture and personal choice, white people have the freedom to avoid confronting the systemic and historical elements of the problem.
Instead of wrestling with the definition of what safety looks like, educators and administrators and students must ask: What is unsafety? What does it mean to be unsafe in a way that threatens someone's livelihood rather than merely their ego or fence of privilege? Students of color, LGBTQ students, Muslim students, students with mental illnesses, immigrant students can tell you what unsafety looks like--and it goes beyond callous comments in the classroom and bad Halloween parties. It's walking into the world with a shield up to ward off the inevitable while knowing that beneath your feet, the machinery of your country is set against you. The news headlines remind you of that everyday.
Walking is not a paternalistic exercise that allows us to lament the pain of others from a distance, comfortably stagnant in our usual commute. It should pull us closer to the communities that we were not born into--it should remind us that they belong to us. If compassion is "suffering with" another person, then our walks should take us out of our routines and in step with others as they make the journeys they must to survive.