My friends of color face scenarios I remain blissfully unaware of. I’ll never forget the shock I felt when my half-Mexican friend told me he’d been pulled over for not making a complete stop at a stop sign on a dead-quiet residential street at two in the morning. Six cop cars showed up on short notice. This is in a town of a few thousand people. As one of the few people of color, he was often given increased scrutiny. It was an issue I’ve never faced. My skin color is invisible to most people, especially police.
If I’d listened, I would have heard many more stories. We white people, we need to listen.
This is something so many white people (and some people of other races, including a few African-Americans) don’t understand. They don’t see the day-to-day realities for black Americans. Sure they might see an isolated incident, but they don’t see the ongoing microaggressions…the daily indignities that blacks experience. They see things on an individual and isolated level, rather than the aggregate. When you try to point it out to many of them and connect these events to a larger pattern of systemic racism, they try to justify the mistreatment or the racial profiling or the extrajudicial killing. As if there is something that justifies how we’re treated.
John Johnson posts some incredibly sobering statistics showing blacks are overwhelmingly more likely than whites to see Ferguson as a racial issue, and asks whether it’s due to black misperception, or white ignorance:
For the first explanation to hold, 80% of Black Americans would be impugning the conduct of the police despite being protected and served by them. 80% of Black Americans would be making up stories of being pulled over for “driving while Black,” despite receiving excellent service from their local cops. Think about that. You can talk trash about Verizon while having a working phone and there’d be no consequence; your service will continue as long as you pay your bill. But imagine speaking out and protesting against police organizations that are presently providing them with adequate service and protection. Why the hell would Black people want to piss off the people who are not only serving them, but who are armed and entrusted with the right to shoot people?
At the end, he shows a video of a black man being shot after being pulled over for not wearing his seatbelt. I’ve never had to worry about more than a traffic fine.
Are you a white person?
Have you committed a crime?
Did you get away with it?
Do you feel guilty about it?
If your answer to all four questions is ‘YES’, then hurry thee to #CrimingWhileWhite, the new hashtag that gives white people a platform to confess their unpunished crimes (it also showcases two different America’s–the one black people live in and the one white people live in). Did you sign off on a war that killed thousands of people? Were you a victim of ‘affluenza’ who drove drunk and killed several people, only to get a slap on the wrist? Did you engage in civil unrest after your favorite sports team won (or lost) a game? Then this hashtag is for you!
Contrast that with the #Alivewhileblack hashtag. Note that it is now basically a crime in America to sit while black. See how even white people who shoot black cops get off lightly, and how the media treats crime sprees by white kids drastically differently than they do black kids. And if you think it’s a matter of “respectability,” the fact that off-duty black cops get harassed by police should disabuse you of that notion.
Black women like Ashley Ford are treated as prostitutes by cops who pull them over with their white boyfriends:
Ryan was my date to a wedding & as we were driving home, a police car pulled up next to us and promptly pulled him over. We were confused.
The officer was asking how we knew one another, how long we’d known one another, where we were going. Then I realized what he was asking….
I’m an attractive woman. ANY man should feel blessed with my company. A white man dating me doesn’t make me or him special.
But in the eyes of cops, I’ve learned over and over again, if a white man is paying me any attention, there’s a good chance I’m a whore.
Even wealthy black parents who can give their kids every advantage can’t shield them from the way other people will hurl slurs at them for the color of their skin:
It was a Tuesday afternoon when my 15-year-old son called from his academic summer program at a leafy New England boarding school and told me that as he was walking across campus, a gray Acura with a broken rear taillight pulled up beside him. Two men leaned out of the car and glared at him.
“Are you the only nigger at Mellon Academy*?” one shouted.
Women of color have to struggle against the white men who want to control their bodies. Siviku Hutchinson talks about the importance of abortion for black women, and the obstacles white evangelists place in their way.
Pro-death, anti-abortion public policy and protest are a form of race, class and gender warfare disguised as religious morality crusades to “protect” innocent “babies”. Challenging the abortion as “black genocide” billboard campaign mounted by right wing foundations a few years ago, reproductive justice activist Loretta Ross said, “We decided to have abortions. We invited Margaret Sanger to place clinics in black neighborhoods. We are part of the civil and human rights movement. We protected the future of black children, not our opponents.” Despite their high levels of religiosity, a solid majority of African Americans support safe and legal access to abortion. And African American women have the highest rate of abortion amongst all groups of American women. The reasons are not mysterious—black women are disproportionately poor, under-employed, single and living in highly segregated communities with limited health care access which have borne the brunt of the economic depression. Due to slavery and the violent legacy of Jim Crow, black women have a history of coercive control over their reproduction. Thus abortion is an essential right in a white supremacist capitalist economy that neither supports nor values women of color and their children.
If you’re white, especially if you’re a white male, you have no problems finding people in books and movies and other media who reflect you. If you’re a person of color, your choices shrink drastically. And if you ask for a little more diversity in, say, novels, you get ridiculous backlash, as Feminace can attest:
“If you want diverse books, write them.”
I will throat punch the next person who says this in my presence, like writing books is such an easy fucking thing that everyone who wants to see and read something different can just pull a novel out of their ass, get it published and read by tons of people. Not like it’s hard or anything.
Roxane Gay points out a few of the problems with the Academy, and Hollywood in general:
And in Selma, which is an outstanding movie, we see, yet again, the kind of story Academy voters are comfortable with when it comes to people of color–always about the history, about the struggle. Where is the Birdman for an aging Asian actress? Where is Girlhood, ambitiously chronicled over a number of years? Where is the twee movie shot in highly saturated color about a woman working as a hotel concierge? These stories exist and if they don’t they have the potential to exist, if there were more opportunities available. There would be more opportunities available if when these stories were made, and made well, they were recognized because then studios would be more inclined to support similar work. It’s a vicious cycle that could be a lot less vicious if the right people stuck their necks out.
It’s exhausting to navigate through spaces that are overwhelmingly white and male. DNLee talks about what it’s like to be a black woman in a STEM field:
How does it feel to be #BlackandSTEM and a woman? For me it often feels exhausting. I’m tired of having to self-monitor and self-police…Why do I do this? Well, part of it is habit. Ambitious, high achieving African-Americans of my generation were explicitly trained by our elders to conduct ourselves in a way to make the majority and authorities feel comfortable. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Great advice it is. It cultivates the necessary self-discipline to thrive in any professional setting because let’s face it outbursts, confrontations can get you booted professionally, even if justified. And let’s be honest, when you’re feed and raised on Respectability Politics since the crib you don’t lose your cool over trivial matters. It’s often over something big and egregious and has been happening a long time.
Even something as simple as a black woman’s hair is fraught with meaning, as Brittney Cooper explains:
Above all things, the care taken with a black girl’s hair signaled that she was loved and cared for, that she belonged to somebody. Having one’s children out in the world with unkempt, uncombed hair has always been considered a major form of parental neglect in black communities.
And considered a national security risk – or is this just an excuse to touch black women’s hair? The TSA certainly seems fascinated with natural black styles. They patted down Ashanté Reese’s hair several times:
In between these incidences, I began to pay attention to these probing processes, and every time I’ve seen it, it has been performed on a woman of color. Actually, every time I’ve seen it, it has been performed on a black woman with hair of the curly/kinky variety or with braids or locs. After the last incident, I posted a status on my facebook page asking others about their experiences. Within two hours, I received responses from sixteen women: 15 self-identified black women and 1 whose self-identified racial identity I do no know. 13 of those black women wear their hair in some type of natural style. Of the sixteen women who responded, eleven of them have had their hair patted down.
What’s interesting about allergies is most of the time the allergen isn’t an obvious threat. After all, a peanut doesn’t look as dangerous as a lion chasing after you. Yet to many, a peanut spells certain death while they might just have a slim chance with the lion. Well it’s the same thing with discrimination! If you’re not allergic to peanuts, you can’t comprehend how you’re always on the look out for anything that might have been made with nuts. You’re always worried “this might be the one that finally does me in.” However, with discrimination it’s not your life that’s threatened, it’s your sense of hope. And you become vigilant in safeguarding it.
There are a trillion ways, from enormous to tiny, that our society others people of color. White folk like me can only see them through their eyes. It’s past time we looked, and understood, and helped do something about it.