A Marin Mother Examines the Racial Issues We Face in Our Community

Gwendolyn and son

I’ve been avoiding your texts, struggling to find my words for the crisis we are in, largely because I feel responsible for my participation through inaction — as with every other child, sister, uncle and friend who was murdered before George Floyd’s senseless murder and the delay in the charging of his perpetrator. I see the posts and expressions of anger, frustration and grief. But posting on social is not going to effect change. So why am I writing this now? 

First, I have decided how I’m going to participate and have committed to two organizations — one in the form of a financial donation, the other volunteering my time in a way I think can truly produce necessary change. 

Further, I am the mother of a Black young man, adopted from Ethiopia at twelve, and thus, I have somewhat of a unique perspective on the pronouncements of white privilege and professions of liberal alliances in my white-washed, affluent community. It’s easy to self-congratulate for holding liberal ideals whilst ignoring both the absence of diversity in our community and one’s participation in a system that ensures our community remains as such. I see you changing your Facebook profile picture with the latest trending banner to express your anger. Are you equally outraged by the long-standing educational inequalities for our community’s children in Marin City? Do you fight for equal opportunity and pay to combat the economic disparity in our community? Do you educate yourself on the politics of racism and volunteer to turn out voters? What do you do? 

The mayor of Mill Valley recently suggested that our town is impervious to racial injustice. When my son was in in high school and participated (without our permission) in the junior/senior prank and was caught at the Tam swimming pool with his two best friends by the police, the parents of his two white friends were called to pick up their boys from the Tam parking lot. We received a call from the Marin City Sheriff’s Office where our son was taken by Mill Valley police. I’ll let you unpack the multiple assumptions embedded in that.

My son, a starter on the varsity soccer team as a freshman at Tam, missed classes due to early release for games, and as a result of his poor communication and initiative with his teacher, fell behind in Social Studies. When his progress report came, he was earning a C due to incomplete assignments, not a reflection of his aptitude. We had a long conversation about expectations, decisions and consequences. However, the following day my son received a pink slip at school, during the very class in which he had fallen behind, asking him to report to the classroom of the teacher for the Black Student Union, a club of which my son was not a member. He found himself surrounded by students with whom he shared no classes (a whole other conversation) being recognized and given candy for his academic achievement. I wrote to the school district and asked if it’d be any less offensive to pull all of the girls receiving a C or higher in Maths out class to congratulate them, with candy, for their achievements. The district’s response stated that it was a shame I chose to politicize what was clearly a well intended gesture.

Home from New York after his sophomore year at college, my son headed into the city for a friend’s 21st birthday celebration in San Francisco. My phone rang at 3 a.m. and the blood turned ice in my veins. When I answered, I sharply exhaled with relief at the sound of his voice. But the relief turned to confusion and then fury when he explained that he was in jail in San Rafael. My son had taken a Lyft home to Mill Valley, and instead of having the driver wind the narrow road to his father’s home on Summit, he had the driver drop him off at the Depot and took the shortcut through the Lovell stairs. As he, admittedly drunkenly, staggered to his home, he was apprehended by Mill Valley police, and not safely escorted home to his dad, but taken to jail where he waited scared, alone and confused for over an hour before being allowed to call me. When I arrived to him in jail, the arresting officer said no charges were being pressed — because walking home in your neighborhood at 1:30am when you’re over 21 isn’t a crime — and they were just letting him sober up. Would I have been picked up and taken to jail? Would your child? 

So when Black men are being murdered by white policemen, I’m truly terrified, here, in our community, and want to know what my community is doing — not passively sharing your albeit genuine, but still entitled outrage in you Facebook post — to express your solidarity and refusal of racism and injustice, in all their forms. Everywhere.


Gwendolyn Gayner