Before I begin, I want to put a bit of a disclaimer and an agreement that we will enter into for the next year. The stories and thoughts I put here are not going to always be uplifting or happy. They are often going to be challenging, uncomfortable and are going to make me (and I hope through me, make you) think about our privilege.
“Are you lost?”
This is what a friend and I were greeted with as two cops pulled over as we were walking down the street.
Now I realize that the initial reaction to this lacking in detail story may differ drastically based on your own experiences with police. Many may initially be relieved or comforted that I was being looked after. But to Greg (my friend and coworker at the Br. David Darst Center) and I, this interaction left us feeling uncomfortable and faced head first with out white privileged. Let me help you understand why I felt this way. Some context:
First: Greg and I are white.
Second: We are dressed in fairly well-to-do, nice clothing.
Third: We are in Lawndale when this happens. We are walking from East Garfield Park. For those who don’t know, these two neighborhoods are majority black, poor neighborhoods.
Fourth: The cops are both white.
Fifth: This is my neighborhood. I have lived here for over a month now.
Sixth: We are the only two white bodies (besides the cops) on that street.
Seventh: They don’t pull over to talk to anyone else on the street.
I know the reaction of many may be still be something along the lines of “how kind the police were”. “They are doing there job and making sure that we are safe”. And they were, but it was for the only two young white bodies in view on the whole street, who were drastically in the minority at that moment. They didn’t stop for anyone else around us. We didn’t have phones out. We were not looking around confused. We were walking with some purpose, in the middle of a conversation, when they pulled over. And it is for that reason, that this interaction becomes a question of racism and white privileged. Hense my discomfort.
Why is this racism and white privilege?
In that moment, Greg and I, as white bodies in a black community, were told by authorities (the police) that this is not a place we belong or should be. It was solely based on our appearances (color and materials) and NOT behaviors, that identified us as outsiders. As not belonging. The authority of the police made a judgement that this deemed us worthy of being saved and helped. We were given value and worth to police because of our color. This small act of racism and ones like it, are so common. It is rare that we as whites notice it. That is part of priveledge.
It is in these moments, that I see the way I operate and contribute to racism that I become extremely uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do.
Greg and I in that moment simply said nope and continued walking. Why didn’t I question the police on why they were asking us? Why wasn’t I surprised that this was happening? Why did I then let that interaction effect the way I was holding myself in the community (my posture became closed off and defensive the rest of the walk)? I was complacent in that interaction. I perpetuated the racist standards and then embodied them on the walk and in thought.
I still don’t know what to do in that moment. I am racist. Yes, I just said that. And we all need to start acknowledging it. Because that it the first step. We are racist. As a white women I continue to perpetuate and be complicit in so many ways that I’m still discovering. But it is these small racist actions, like this above, that are SO dangerous to our country. And we need to start seeing them and changing them. How? I don’t know? But I’m trying everyday to figure that out.
I know this is probably making you uncomfortable or unsteady. Maybe you already knew this and heard it before. Maybe this is the first time you are hearing racism in these terms . Either way part of my job this year is to bring these questions and discomfort into view. This blog isn’t going to be easy, to write or to read (Trust me, I have sat down now 10 times to try to write it and kept running away because I was afraid to miss represent, not convey the right message, or not talk about the right things). My stories hurt and are my interpretation of the world as I see it currently. You may not agree. But we are a broken country. We are hurting and I believe we can’t be complacent anymore. The first step is seeing where we are broken and how we are contributing. I’m going to do my best to show the ways in which I am complicit and how I see these things at work around me. I just ask that you try to see it that way. Feel free to send me questions.
Till next time,