My bestie is insightful and amazing for a ton of reasons, this post being but one of them. So, so, so worth the read. Seconding everything written below.
”Is this your father?” The police officer loomed above me, partially obscuring my dad from view as he leaned into the car window to get a closer look at me in the passenger’s seat. I was about seven or eight years old. My dad was taking me to school, a private christian outfit where I was one of the few “minority” students.
“Is this your father?” he asked again, his tone adjusted to mimic friendliness, “Are you OK?” but I was mute with fear. This wasn’t the first time a police officer pulled my Chicano dad over for no reason at all. It would not be the last. But this was the first time an officer questioned his paternity while I was in the car. I looked at my dad, his face barely hiding his humiliation and rage.
I didn’t have the words then, but I what I wanted to say was “No, this is not my father. This is not the dad I know. My dad is strong and you’ve made him weak. My dad always has to get the last word but around you he grows silent. You’ve made my dad a suspect. What did you do to him? Where did you take my dad?” But instead I said nothing and stared at my hands trembling in my lap.
My dad was/is brown. My dad had tattoos on his arms before it lent hipster cred — when it meant that you were either in a gang or spent time in prison. This was enough reason for a police officer to pull my dad over on a sunny morning and grill him about his past, present and future while I squirmed in the passenger’s seat, believing that if I said even one wrong word they would take him away from me.
This is what I believed as a little girl. That if you open your mouth and say the wrong thing, someone with a badge can take your brown dad away from you. Even the thought was enough to paralyze me.
Flash forward seven/eight years. I’m a rebellious teen who steals my stepdad’s car at 15 and takes it on the highway to visit friends in another city. I have no license and don’t know how to drive. I teach myself, weaving between lanes at 1am at night. Soon enough, I hear sirens.
“Are you ok?” The officer is friendly as I exit the car and approach him, hiding my fear behind a big smile. In the police car there is another officer. Two of them. My teen mind and body saturated in adrenaline comes up with a lie: I left my purse with my license at the home where I was babysitting. I have to get home so my mom can take the car to work — she works nights.
The officer sizes me up. I’m fair skinned, my hair is dyed a blondish brown and I’m thin and pretty. My jeans are tight. He smiles, drinking it in, oblivious to the carelessly strewn cases of beer in the back seat. All signs point to me being arrested, and yet I’m not. They let me go.
They let me go. After driving like a maniac on the highway at 1am. After not having any registration or a license. After being visibly very young, with suspicious looking packages in the backseat that blatantly reveal with their packaging that I’m transporting alcohol. After they ask me where I’m going and I can’t give them a definite address, or cross streets.
They let me go.
Eight years earlier: “‘It’s just the world, mija,” my dad said as we pulled up to my private elementary school — the place my parents sacrificed a lot to send me to. “It’s how the world is.”
As I entered my classroom, greeted by my white best friend as we hustled to get into our seats before our stern white teacher began glorifying Manifest Destiny, a thought lingered in my head: “But why is the world like that?”
I shared this personal experience to raise a point: When you hear or think about Trayvon Martin’s death and the ongoing case, you may experience an assortment of feelings: confusion, outrage, sadness, etc.
Now imagine that your father was Trayvon Martin, or any other innocent black male over the past several decades who was gunned down because someone was afraid of his blackness — of his perceived threat of violence.
This is how many people of color feel when they see a badge — even if they’ve never committed a crime in their life. They know — from personal experience — that sometimes all it takes to get you questioned, detained, arrested or killed is to be not-white.
I’m actually not sharing this post for white people (although if you’re reading it and you are white, hi ♥).
I’m sharing this post for my POC friends and subscribers who continue to lie to themselves about their status in this world, even as they watch their darker-skinned relatives and friends experience the same injustices, over and over again.
Turning a blind eye to bigotry and racism isn’t solving anything. Do you, of course. Get your money, education and career. But remember that JUST “doing you” gives you a role to play as well in this horror show that is a perfect storm for results like George Zimmerman. The role of the apathetic minority.
In many respects, this role is even more dangerous than the apathetic white person. When you, as a person of color, demonstrate that apathy is an acceptable path, you are endorsing your white friends’ apathy. You are their excuse for you being their only “close” POC friend. You become the reason why they never have to grow as human beings because saying “one of my best friends is black/latino/etc. friend” often secretly ends with “so this means I never have to examine my white privilege or give a shit about inequality.”
When you, as a person of color with privilege, work at a company where you are the only (or one of a few) POC, and don’t see anything wrong with this, you’re a part of the problem.
When you, as a person of color with privilege, never question your white friends when they say something completely ignorant in front of you, always letting it slide because “I know what they meant,” you are part of the problem.
We don’t live in a bubble. What we do and say affects the people around us. I see the transformation in my own life, in the lives of others.
Blaming everything on whitey may have been relevant a few decades ago. But it’s become far more complicated. Many of us are accomplices in this complex charade that confuses society into thinking that some people deserve happiness and freedom more than others.
It’s not your job to educate white people 24-7. But when you alter your life and responses to avoid addressing inequality because it makes you uncomfortable, you are making a choice to justify apathy. You are an accomplice.
More innocent black boys, men — more innocent people of color will die. They will keep dying because it’s far too easy to just blame the white man than to examine our role in this continued horror show.
If you really care about what happened to Trayvon, prove it. Do one thing this week that you normally would not do that will tangibly make a difference towards achieving equality.
Donate an hour or two to mentor a young person of color. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Organize a boycott against Urban Outfitters or any other store that blatantly rips off artists and poc communities while turning your cultural icons into cute panties for white girls. Talk about your job and what got you there at an organization that serves young people of color.
Don’t say “I would but I don’t have time.” That is a lie. If you have time to be on here for even one hour straight, you have time to do something. Time management is a skill everyone should cultivate. Also, if you need a purely selfish motive, often volunteering widens your network and can lead to profitable endeavors.
To sum up the longest post I’ve ever written: posting your outrage on Facebook or Tumblr alone is not enough and it never will be. And thinking that the struggles of black people are not your struggles is a very dangerous game to play that, as demonstrated throughout history, does nothing but divide us.
This is a cross-post from my Facebook page.