Before I tell you my stories today, I want to admit to you that I was torn between posting and not posting. I considered sharing a post from a woman of color today to do my part to join in the blackout in which people are lifting voices of color rather than using their own white perspectives to post their thoughts. I decided I will do both. Because my stories are stories of the black voices in my family, which I do my best to hear, I will lift another of those up to you today. AND, later I will share a post from a woman of color. Or maybe more than one.
Story of Racism:
Just about every black man I know can tell this story, so it’s only the first part of my story today:
When we were young, after purchasing the first brand new car we ever bought together, Jacques was pulled over. He was not speeding or violating any other laws. He was returning home from graduate school after an evening spent in class at a highly regarded university in a “good” part of town. Not only was he pulled over, but he was surrounded. Surrounded. By law enforcement vehicles, in the dark, with their lights flashing and guns pointed. He was instructed to get out of the vehicle, show his ID, and explain why it was he was driving a brand-new Jetta. A VW Jetta, friends. A Jetta. Fortunately, he was allowed to leave without further issue. That was in 1998.
Flash forward to 2016. In her first year of driving, Isabelle, our middle daughter, was pulled over — in our own neighborhood — for speeding. She admits she was going too fast. In the middle of a suburban middle class neighborhood, I will never understand why it was necessary for TWO police SUVs to flank her and pull her over. But what gets under my skin even more than that, is that when she cried, they laughed at her. They laughed and demanded to know why she was crying. And when she said, “because I’m scared,” they scoffed and told her “Allen cops are nice.”
Seems to me that neither diversity training nor sensitivity training can teach people to understand that people of color live the collective trauma of decades of police stopping black drivers for no reason compounded with centuries of brutality by the authorities against people of color. On top of that, our kids have grown up with all the viral videos of police stopping and then killing black people, with very little justice served afterwards.
I asked Isabelle what she said when they told her Allen cops were “nice.” She said, “I stopped crying because it wasn’t worth letting them see my fear.”
She got off with a warning. And a solid scoop of fear topped off with humiliation like the cherry on top.
MY WHITE PRIVILEGE:
When my husband is alone, dressed in basketball shorts, maybe picking up materials for a home improvement project or shopping at Costco, people see someone “scary.” Friends of mine have described him as “intimidating at first.” Until they realize he’s goofy and likes to speak in weird voices and make funny faces, and that above all, he wants to get to know you as another human being. It takes them a while to realize I’m the hothead, he’s cool as a cucumber. A teddy bear. But the first reaction he gets is often fear and intimidation. Granted, he is 6’2” with broad shoulders and big muscles, so you might assume that’s why people would be uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing though: we have white friends who are similar in physical stature, dress the same way to shop in Lowe’s or Costco, and they are not seen as scary. They are seen as Dads Doing Dad Things, Husbands Being Good Husbands.
Where you meet my husband — in what context, with whom, doing what activity — skews your perception of him. Those who meet him in church describe him as “gentle and kind.” If you had met him at a park when our kids were little, you’d have described him as a “good dad” and “playful and attentive.” Meet him with me and you might describe him as “supportive and loving.”
Meet him at dusk, alone in the parking lot of an EconoLodge where he just barely managed to pull over when his truck broke down though, and how would you view him? That’s why he sent me into the office to tell them what happened and ask their permission to park there till it could be towed.
That’s white privilege.
Sidebar: I don’t want to miss an opportunity to acknowledge that women have to be careful of men in parking lots no matter what time of day, what race, which parking lot. Like I said yesterday, there is intersectionality going on. So please be careful. But please also be aware that there is a disproportionate, often unconscious and ingrained fear in white people when it comes to black men. It is real and it puts my husband — and every black man — at risk.
PS: I appreciate all the messages that go sort of like this, “I love your husband! He’s so sweet” and “I’m so sorry this happened to your husband” or “I can’t believe this happened! You have such a great family!” I really do appreciate the messages. Ya’ll are so supportive and I feel very loved. So please don’t be offended when I say that when offering your messages of personal support, I hope also that you know that it isn’t because we’re an awesome family and he’s an awesome guy (we are and he is 😉 ) that you should be touched by these stories. It’s because the large majority of people of color are awesome and have not deserved the treatment they’ve gotten. The details of these particular stories are ours, but the stories themselves are not. It is unjust and unfair what they face that we don’t. I assume you know that or you wouldn’t have read this far, but just in case, I wanted to do a little “check in” on that point. Thank you for reading. Xoxo ~dana
Originally posted June 2020 on https://medium.com/@invisibleleftovers