I wrote this blog back in November 2015. The recent events have brought all this to mind, again.
I have yet to comment on all the activities surrounding the aggressions and fatalities of Black men and women in this country. I choose to remain silent and only voice my feelings in the comfort of my private Facebook groups and with family and close (Black) friends. But I’m tired and frustrated. I’m sad and I’m hurt. I want it to stop, and I want it to stop right now! The elephant in the room has made it impossible to breathe anymore.
A couple of days ago I read an entry in the Washington Post, “Posteverything” section. It was a young educated, intelligent Black Woman retelling her story about having to gain entry into her apartment after locking herself out. She placed a call to the locksmith. A young Hispanic male and another female arrived and let her in. Shortly after, she responded to a knock at the door only to be confronted by 19 police officers with a dog and guns drawn, was removed from her home and it was searched. I’m not going to recant the whole story; you can read it for yourself here:
My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment. Nineteen cops showed up.
This is not the first article of late I’ve read about driving or walking while Black. Social media makes the retelling of these types of incidences immediate and real for too many of us.
But, here’s my point – people of color are increasingly aware of the assaults and killings of Black men and women while walking or driving around and have assumed a certain level of fear and abode that lingers.
What if it happens to me?
However innocent you believe yourself to be you are only as good as the perception of Black People held by the attending officer and the community at large. Unfortunately, no amount of education, no level of compensation, no appropriate dress, and certainly no address will make you exempt from suspicion.
The same night I read the article, I was pulled over by the police for failure to have my headlights on. I was thankful for the correction, got my written warning and went my way. I certainly didn’t want to be the cause of some auto fatality, especially my own.
But my reaction to the incident is what alarmed me: When I saw the red light behind me, I immediately started shaking, my palms got sweaty, and I started feeling sick to my stomach. I had a mild panic attack. My fight or flight mechanism had kicked in, and I wanted to fly! I was scared! I could barely get the registration and insurance out of my glove compartment. What if they thought I was pulling a gun from my glove compartment as opposed to my registration? This fear is what keeps me on guard when I travel around town, especially at night, in a predominately White community.
Whose responsibility is it to fix this problem? Mine to learn how to endure the many microaggressions I experience daily? Or the greater White community to learn how to be more accepting and tolerant of our differences, and that we are not all cut from the same cloth – evil, criminal, aggressive, lazy, ignorant and untrustworthy. That they cannot differentiate me from the typical stereotypes of Black people is not my fault. Neither can I tell whether they are members of a hate group seeking to inflict harm on my person.
The difference is this: I have been socialized to believe that all people are good until they give you a reason otherwise. My Christian upbringing challenges me to see the good and love in others. And even if I want to no longer accept that as a way of life, I certainly don’t voice it, for fear of losing credibility and acceptability in the mainstream culture. See, I have to get along with them; they don’t have to get along with me.
I can’t fix their fears or concerns, but I can be vigilant of my situation and not let my guard down: hence the reason I can’t breathe. It takes a lot of effort to exist in a constant state of vigilance. When you couple that with just the challenges of being human on this hostile planet it’s too much! What I do, and what I tell my family to do (especially the young) is as follows:
- Look straight ahead,
- Keep your hands on the steering wheel,
- Answer their questions, and
- Certainly, don’t question their motives.
I heard another piece of advice just the other day that captures the whole sentiment – try not to be Black.
Teri McClanahan, MA. CLC, Certified Cancer Journey Coach