…And sometimes that means we don’t know that maybe we’re kind of racist.
None of us even want to consider the possibility that we might be. We assume we live in a post-racial world since we have black friends and family members and we’d never think of treating a person of color any differently. Because “we’re not racist.” We don’t see the color of their skin, and we truly believe everyone is exactly like us. Except that they’re not.
We assumed everybody’s had roughly the same opportunities and experiences we have. I know since that’s what I did for a really long time. I struggled growing up in a single parent home. There was never enough money, and years when I pretty much raised myself and my brother while my mother was working around the clock. It was hard and I figured if I was able to overcome this less than perfect upbringing so could everyone else. If they didn’t it’s because they were choosing to stay in a cycle of government dependency and violence.
I was so clueless.
There is a huge difference between being low income and being part of a marginalized group that far too many people still see as “dangerous.”
So why not start there. The first question we have to ask ourselves is, “Are African Americans seen that way because they actually are… dangerous?” Are black people inherently more violent and aggressive than white people on a genetic, molecular level?
Of course not.
However, the odds of them growing up in a single parent home, being exposed to gangs and drugs at an earlier age, and living in poverty are much higher. That’s just a fact. Not to mention that predominately black communities are often policed more heavily and based on the color of their skin they’re more likely to be harassed by cops and incarcerated. For example, while black males make up a smaller percentage of overall drug users, they account for three times the number of arrests. They’re more likely to end up on death row and for lesser crimes because they cannot afford adequate legal defense and are jailed at a rate of 1 in 3 as opposed to white males where only 1 in 111 are incarcerated.
Poverty leads to crime so that’s one factor, but African Americans in this country are also targeted disproportionately, and when an overzealous cop kills one of them all we hear is how they should’ve complied while they were being arrested… because that’s what “we” would’ve done.
And if we’re being honest, in the back of most of our Caucasian heads we’re thinking, “not that I’d ever be doing something that’d get me arrested in the first place.” Because we’re white, and even when we’re poor we’re still privileged whether we know it or not.
We don’t live under a constant magnifying glass of law enforcement and we aren’t treated like criminals even when we aren’t doing anything wrong. We don’t know what people of color in this country go through because we aren’t them, and we don’t know what we don’t know.
The other day I was pulling out of a grocery store parking lot and saw a cop coming down the road in front of me. I immediately panicked since I hadn’t put on my seatbelt yet and scrambled to tear it away from my door. My foot was on the break so the seatbelt locked up and I just kept pawing at it like a maniac to no avail. The cop had seen at least a bit of this freak out and finally as he passed in front of me I threw my hands up in defeat. And you know what happened? He looked at me and starting laughing. He grabbed his own seat belt, tugged on it as a warning, winked at me and kept on driving. It was such a light hearted exchange and one so different from what we’ve come to expect from law enforcement that I pulled back into the parking lot and started to type out what had happened on my phone. I figured I’d post it on facebook and talk about how there really are still “good cops” out there, since at the time Ferguson, Missouri was ablaze and people were rioting in the streets.
I was mid-sentence when I stopped myself.
What a stupid little anecdote for something so far beyond my suburban grocery store life. Yes, that cop was good. He could laugh off seatbelt violations because his days were probably pretty lax here in suburbia. And yes, I could panic at the thought of getting a $125 ticket, because while at the end of the day I’m poor enough that it would’ve hurt my pocketbook, it wouldn’t keep my family from eating. That interaction with law enforcement had nothing to do with Ferguson, and I was ashamed that even for a second I thought it did.
There are amazing cops out there everyday willing to give their lives to keep us safe. And there are some corrupt ones too. And if I find myself in a bind I’m absolutely going to reach out to law enforcement for protection, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think the bad cops should still go. I don’t want them showing up to save the day if they’re only going to escalate the situation and make things that much worse. None of us should have to depend on a corrupt cop when human lives are at stake. No matter the color of our skin.
We should all hold our law enforcement to higher standards because we have enTRUSTED them with great power and authority. Doing so does not diminish the police force in any way, just the opposite, it enhances it.
When we know we can trust these courageous men and women to uphold the law, we will be more likely to follow it as well. But when those charged to enforce the law are lawless, it defiles the very rules and standards we’ve all agreed to live by.
Nothing is black and white, quite literally, but I can tell you today when I wanted to share something about the death of Freddie Gray, I hesitated. And that sucked.
I didn’t want to know which friends would post, “what about black on black crimes,” or “if they would’ve just complied with the cops they’d still be alive.” Because I know at their core my friend are good people, but they don’t know what they don’t know. And they don’t know that they still see things through privileged white colored glasses. Because how could they?
They would’ve complied with the cop because they are not constantly harassed by the corrupt ones. They have not seen that power abused time and time again with no repercussions. They do not feel like criminals when they have done nothing wrong, so they don’t understand why one might get fed up and finally become a criminal since it doesn’t seem to make a difference anyway.
I know this because I haven’t either. The color of my skin and good fortune to live in a mostly crime free, affluent community means cops drive by and wink when I break the law, rather than look for even the tiniest excuse to pull me over and search my car.
We don’t know what we don’t know, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still search for truth outside of what we think we know. We must. We have to step beyond our cultural comfort zones and acknowledge that we can do better once we know better. Because at the end of the day, none of us will know peace until we see justice for all, so it’s time to take the blinders off.