Cookie Math: Pint-sized protest gives Milwaukee’s youngest citizens a voice demanding equal justice
Dozens of children and their families assembled across from the Milwaukee Police Department District 1 administration building on June 6, demanding equal justice under the law for people of color as part of the protest movement following the death of George Floyd.
Before the day began with massive crowds marching across Milwaukee, a smaller but unique rally kicked off downtown. The children’s protest at the Milwaukee Police Department was organized by families with little advance public notice, but still managed to attract a sizable gathering – including activist leader Frank Nitty.
On any weekend morning during the summer it is not unusual to see small children draw pictures in chalk on the sidewalk. It is something rather different to see them write messages like “No Justice No Peace” and “Black Lives Matter” on the street next to police headquarters.
It is often said that children are our future, but rarely are they given a voice. The youth protest was designed to offer them that opportunity, along with an important educational experience.
“We don’t know how long this is really going to take. We want this to be the last time that we have to protest. People that are tired of protesting,” Nitty said to the children. “I don’t want my kids to have to protest for Black Lives Matter. It’s not hard to treat us the same. And the fact that we have to do this every 20 to 30 years, over and over again, to fight for the same rights is why I’m not going to stop until something changes.”
Nitty said that he was not going to stop and did not care if he had to protest for 500 continuous days, because he did not want to see another generation having to protest the same issues as his grandparents.
When speaking to the children about what the Black Lives Matter movement meant, he used a simple analogy involving the favorite snack of cookies to explain fairness and access to opportunities. His point was not about redistribution of wealth, but expressing the basic social and religious fundamentals of fairness that parents are expected to teach their children in an American democracy. White society has been structured for decades to deny people of color the same access to services and benefits, restricting them from applying an entrepreneurial spirit to improve their lives.
“You want to be treated fair, right? The same as everybody else, right?” Nitty asked the children, before explaining how people of color are treated unfairly. “Let’s say I had six cookies. If I gave somebody five then I gave you only one, how would you feel? Sad, right? If another kid got five cookies because of their skin color, and you got a single cookie because you have a different skin color, is that right? One group should get three and the other should get three. That is fair. That is their right.”
Historical accounts are usually passed down from one generation to the next, with the built in prejudices that shape the narrative. The June 6 event provided the children with a way to experience the sweeping equal justice protests that they are being exposed to daily. That basis would help them make up their own minds when they are older, looking back to understand their part in history.
“The problem is that white people see racism as a conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people’ it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we are immediately born into. It is like being born into air; you take it in as soon as you breathe. It is not a cold that you can get over. There is not anti-racist certification class. It is a set of socio-economic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it is the price you pay for owning everything.” – Scott Woods