When I get pulled over, the anxiety is quick to rise up through my chest and into my throat. Maybe I’ll even be annoyed. “I’m late, come on! I don’t have time to get pulled over.” I think about if I’ll get a ticket or not. I wonder if turning on the water works might help this situation, get me out of it. Sometimes I go through the checklist: Wasn’t speeding, tags are up to date, lights working… Why did I get pulled over? Or when I’ve gotten in an accident, or been stalled on the side of the road, and a police car pulls up, my first thought is usually one of relief. “Help is here!”
Never, ever, have I thought to myself, “Holy shit. I hope I survive this.”
Because I don’t have to.
Because my skin is white.
I know many police officers personally, a few I would consider great friends. They are good people with kind hearts, who are whip smart and put themselves at risk every single day. They are important to me, they are deeply loved by all who know them, and I do not take for granted their willingness to protect and serve.
And I have black friends who are good people with kind hearts, whip smart, activists, educators, and because of their skin, they are at risk every single day. They are important to me, and they are deeply loved by all who know them.
This is not an “and/or” situation for me, nor for many people like me. We are in the “and/both” camp. I wholeheartedly support and give my gratitude to the men and women who put on a uniform in the morning knowing they may not come home. AND I am also outraged at the disproportionate killing of black men and women at the hands of those we trust to protect us.
Every time I see a video of a black person being killed by a police officer, I see fear in both of their eyes. The prejudice, whether known by the person or not, is vividly apparent. Neither trusts the other and the fear begins its bubbling.
The black person sees the officer and immediately panics and tries to remember everything their parents told them. Hands up, comply, hands higher, comply, no eye contact, comply, on the ground, whatever they say, do it and you’ll be OK, you’ll make it through.
The officer sees a black person and instinctively, and perhaps subconsciously, thinks they probably have a gun and are probably going to use it, and oh god, did I kiss my spouse goodbye when I left, and that is the emotional meter from which they are operating.
Both parties are so driven by fear, it causes one or the other to make the wrong move, and the person perceiving it acts. And maybe the other reacts. And that’s all it takes for it to be over. Another life lost. All because of fear.
I have been reticent about dipping my toes into this national conversation. I have hemmed and hawed, I have wrung my fingers and rocked back and forth in my uncomfortableness. I have friends on both sides of the issue, and I didn’t want to upset anyone. I didn’t want to lose a friend or make someone else uncomfortable. But the anxiety and anger has been building, and it’s making me sick. Ultimately, I decided it is not my place to make someone else comfortable. I have to do what is best for me. And this is what is best for me.
To add my voice. To say enough. To reach out to those who live these fears every day and say, I care. You matter. I’m listening. How can I help? What can I do?
I cannot and will not wait until I am personally affected, whether by one of my friends in a situation having to decide whether or not to use deadly force in a split second, or by seeing one of my friends murdered, leaving their spouse and children behind. Something has to change now.
Someone who, if you took off your skin right there in front of each other, it would be nearly impossible to tell you apart. There is a heart beating furiously under that uniform. There are lungs stretched to capacity under that t-shirt. The color of our skin is purely coincidental, predicted by the country of origin of our ancestors, adapted by the climate and environment. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Pigmentation has nothing to do with who you are as a person. It has nothing to do with your character as a human being.
We have to realize there is no race but the human race. Realize that by dividing us into groups where we think one is superior to another, we are weaker as a population. We are all a part of the same, messed up world where children die of cancer and people start wars because they don’t like another’s god.
Humankind. Be both.
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What can you do to help?
I spoke with my friend who is a PhD. holder and leader in the black community to find out what I could do to help. Here are the things he recommended:
1) Talk about it. This is not just an African-American problem; it is an American problem, and all people are affected in a variety of ways. The more people engaged in courageous conversation, the better. Visit Black Lives Matter for more information on the movement.
2) Pay attention to opportunities to insert yourself in legislative conversations around police brutality and other injustices. Hold your elected official accountable and ask them how they are contributing to these types of conversations and how they are ensuring these types of things don’t happen in the communities they represent. Find your representative here.
3) Call out people on their bigotry and/or unconscious biases. Sometimes people downplay, or even doubt, certain things happen because it’s not a part of their lived experience, and that is insensitive and disrespectful. So if you see it, take a stand.