Sunday, April 22, 2012

A young black man, being late

This is the kind of experience so far beyond my expectations, as a white man, that I can hardly even grasp it. Think we have a color-blind society? Think again.

An excerpt:
We rushed to the orthodontist, and pulled in to the parking lot, right next to the path to the front door. I got out of the car, and noticed another car pulling in behind us. My mom, rifling through her purse, told me to go and check in before I was late, and then shooed me away. "Go! Go!"

As I took a step, I heard a loud voice yell at me, "Get back in the car!"

I looked over, and saw that the car behind us was a black police cruiser. No sirens, no lights, nothing to warn us of any impending trouble. Just a cruiser that pulled in behind us, and was now yelling at me.

I bent over and shot a look at my mom, silently asking what the fuck was going on. She looked up at me, still not aware the cop was behind her, and said, "What? Go inside!"

I stood up, and looked over at the cop, a younger white woman, tense and inexplicably angry, and saw her standing behind her open door, gun pointed at me. "Get. In. The. Car." ...

A few minutes later, we found out that the officer was giving my mom a speeding ticket. Curiously, the ticket was for a stretch of road two miles away from the lot in which we were now parked, and she had only started following us within the last half-mile or so, but at that point, nobody was in a mood to argue.

There's a reason that Trayvon Martin's story hits me so hard. When you're thirteen and threatened with a bullet through the chest for getting your braces tightened, it teaches you how the world works, and does it in a hurry.

The world never worked that way for me. Even when I was young, out drinking with my friends, when we were stopped by the police, the expectation (on both sides) was very different.

But we were middle-class white college students. We knew that the police worked for us, and we expected to be treated that way. And the police knew it, too.

Of course, the police weren't scared of us. And if an officer had pulled a gun on us for no reason - after all, this was supposedly just about a speeding ticket! - there would have been real repercussions. They knew that. And we, too, knew that - or would have, if the possibility had ever occurred to us.

This isn't just racial profiling, it's the kind of stereotyping that's widespread throughout America. Tell me again about that color-blind society. But first, maybe you should talk to someone who isn't white.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I've never been big on the whole "color-blind" thing. As Bill Maher once said "blind still means you can't see."

As whites, I don't think we'll ever be able to wrap our heads around all the crap most blacks have to put up with. One example:

I remember watching an interview with the rapper Ice-T just after the Rodney King beating tape came out. He commented about the differences in reaction to the tape between whites and blacks. The whites were like "Oh my God, that's terrible." But the blacks were like "They (i.e. police) finally got caught (nodding knowingly) they finally got caught."