For the past few months, I have silently waited for an intrinsic nudge to engage with this topic. It did not come, so I carried on, hoping it would blow-over as quickly as it blew-up. I bent my head low and stringently ignored social media so I could convince myself further that no one wanted to hear from me… not now… and maybe, not ever. What am I talking about?
I told myself that racism is political, and Finding 52 is not a platform for that kind of rhetoric. I assured my conscience that my voice was not welcome in this time of heightened sensitivity. I settled into a silence that felt safe from the triggers arising from old wounds and unsettling truths. I engaged my ‘polly-anna’ outlook, and distracted myself with work, home projects, and my newest mind-numbing addiction, online Scrabble.
Then I got a message. It was a link to a video made by an American community group that wanted to educate their black youth on how to behave when stopped by police. Different ages and genders of black people were filmed reciting the ‘tips’ necessary to remain safe while having interactions with law enforcement. Here’s the link to view it:
After my heart broke… from the absolutely gut-wrenching reasons why this community felt it imperative to have an emotional and educational narrative in their current media stream… I got angry.
This was a curious emotion, but I did not stop to analyze it. I did not want to be angry… or reflective… or connected in any way to this unsavory stream of information. I wanted to be left alone. So, I politely responded to the message that these tips would be applicable for anyone being stopped by an officer, and went about forgetting racial conflict existed.
This silence seemed to make sense, until another friend bravely challenged it as disappointing and hurtful. Uh-oh… that crumbled my cookie. Because I love and trust her, I had to ask myself… am I misinformed, sheltered, afraid or yikes… racist? But, that is only where the conversation begins.
Let me explain…
My views come from five different perspectives.
1. Born White.
2. Raised in Racial Silence.
3. Married a Black Abuser.
4. Parenting Bi-Racial Kids.
5. Being a Police Officer.
If you still feel like dissecting this a little further with me, then let’s dig in.
Born White: I may not feel or act particularly privileged, but I cannot deny it, defend it, or deflect it… Privilege exists. Because my skin color matches the color of those who have the most political, economic, and social power in my country, I am less likely to be thought suspicious, untrustworthy, or worse… dangerous.
I acknowledge this privilege as unfair. I know I have used it intentionally AND inadvertently to secure my status and access to opportunity and resources. I think my job is to own it, take whatever heat comes along with that responsibility, and work toward balancing the scales in whatever scope is presented to me…
Raised in Racial Silence: I referred to suspecting my mum was likely racist in Week 42, so perhaps this is a good time to expand on what I think that meant in my youth. I knew this racism to be quiet, unspecific and unlabeled… until someone blurred an invisible line that was somehow supposed to be obvious… and I realized… there was an US and a THEM.
My small, predominantly white town was founded by a black settlement in the early 1900’s, but that was not celebrated. While I cannot remember observing direct racial discrimination, I did feel a pervading undertone of discomfort, intolerance and separation present in the body language and vocabulary used by many of the adults around…
Married a Black Abuser: I was warned. Don’t marry this man. Only one of my cautionary advisors cited race as the reason for their concern, but I cannot help wonder if the others were worried about the same thing. No one seemed surprised when my marriage became a war-zone, but they might be wrong about why. I didn’t marry a black man who abused me. I married an abusive man, who happened to be black.
But there is another twist… always another twist, right? One of the many names my ex used to call me was ‘racist’. I think he used this label to reverse his feelings of cultural inferiority AND as a way to deflect the times I would question his adverse attitude toward others. Overcoming THIS… has been a big emotional hurdle for me!
Parenting Bi-Racial Kids: If you think this is all about to be wrapped up into a clear and easy, one-size-fits-all-racism package… surprise! There are no consistent patterns of racism with my four Bi-Racial children. Here is what they have told me recently and historically:
One has endured a chronic, racially-charged, bullying issue happening at school. One gets extra security screenings at airports. One believes they have never experienced traditional racism (‘white’ vs. ‘everyone else’) but have been criticized for not being ‘black’ enough. And… One has overtly drawn the attention of every person in a role of authority, including police, since they were very young.
To be fair, most of their experiences happened in the same community where they were raised, so that limits the breadth of their exposure to racially targeted incidents. And, finally…
Being a Police Officer: Many folks are angry at us right now. Trust is low, and fear is high… from both sides. I am going to suggest something statistical to quell some of that emotion.
My municipality averages between 5-10% of citizens who engage in a lifespan of committing criminal offenses. Another 10-15% have committed crimes once or occasionally in their life. The rest of us will only ever intersect with an officer for traffic issues or a by-law violation. I am going to label that as a 20:80 ratio… 20% of citizens who, at any given moment, may provoke a criminal investigation and heightened police tactics, and 80% of citizens who only commit minor infractions.
Here is where the trouble starts… the 20% drive too fast, argue with spouses or neighbors, don’t pay parking tickets, report their stolen wallets, and forget to renew their vehicle registration… just like the 80%. So, how can I tell the difference between them? I can’t. No officer can on first sight. But, if I am going to go home unharmed every night, which is definitely the goal, I must anticipate the 20% within every interaction.
Wrapping it ALL Up: Truly, I do not sense an imminent conclusion. Perhaps that is the point. The discussion, the work, the processing… needs to continue. All of our children have waded into these waters, without choice and perhaps without being properly prepared. So, this is the uncomfortable road I am willing to walk, to shape a future that demands accountability for treating each other with compassion, grace and acceptance :
- First. As a white woman, who was open enough to marry outside her race and has loved, protected and defended four Bi-Racial children, I will never really know the scope of their experiences, or understand how much of their treatment is perceived vs. real. So, my privilege is to listen… and learn… as they unravel their story.
- Second. Because of the varied discrepancies in the experiences of each of my kids, I was unable to see a pattern or connect the narrative to their physical features, but I did wonder about something else. Were their interactions linked to how they shaped their identity? My most racially affected or ‘profiled’ child has strong traits typical of a 90’s gangster movie character. Although family violence was modeled by their father, this pop culture, media driven idea of what ‘black’ is, was not. I think this child’s attitude and actions were choices based on an oversold identity viewed within multi-media, and it took them down a darker path than the other siblings.
- And Third. Horrendously awful police officers and departments exist. Why? Because horrendously awful ideology exists. Change the landscape of thought that normalizes or excuses inhumane, unjust, or ill-informed practices within a society, and police tactics will change. How? Officers are hired from the communities they serve. When a community has a shift in culture, so will the people serving that community.
I will end with an analogy I heard on a podcast with Ibram X. Kendi, author of How To Be An Antiracist, and Stamped From The Beginning. He described racism as a heavy rain that has been pouring down on people since they were born, while everyone around has been telling them they are dry. That person is going to believe their ‘dryness’ and think anything else is absurd. This continues for generations, until someone shows up with an umbrella, stops the downpour for a second, and simply says, “Hey, you are drenched”.
This must be why I originally got mad. Feeling my ‘soaked’ disposition felt shameful and naked. Instead of continuing to choose anger or silence, I initiated conversations, researched books, and listened to podcasts and social justice influencers. One of my favorite bits so far is Austin Channing Brown’s message to ‘good’ white people… “you can be BETTER”.
Thank you to the umbrella holders, who bravely extend their arms to folks who don’t even know they are wet. With diligence and humility, I will keep splashing through the flood of racial blind-spots that hinder ME from seeing YOU, as equal.
Maybe one day I will be strong enough to hold an umbrella for someone else.
If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1967 – The Trumpet of Conscience (Massey Lecture Series)