Back when the Man Unit and I were still newlyweds almost sixteen years ago, we were returning from the wedding of a mutual friend and her new husband in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago. Not even 10 minutes after returning across the city line and back into Chicago, we encountered what we assumed was a drunken driving checkpoint. The Man Unit being the overly cautious type wasn’t worried, since he had left the imbibing to me and I was not the one behind the wheel. Little did he know his worldview was about to change forever when it came to race relations in this country.
As fate would have it, our car was picked for the special welcome from Chicago’s boys in blues. We were asked to pull over and immediately my husband was grilled about who was I and why was I in the car. Excuse me? He explained in his best how dare you voice that I was his wife and why were they asking? Never at any point was a breathalyzer issued, nope…the cops wanted to know why a white man was in a car late at night with a Black woman. They eventually let us go but not before implying that I was a prostitute, in the end no apologies were issued for detaining us and my brand new husband went home stunned that such a thing could happen. I wasn’t…nope just another day in Black America.
Last night CNN ran a special on the N-word, yes an hour dedicated to talking about that word and its distant cousin Cracker. However the takeaway that has been on the mouths of many is actor and director, LeVar Burton’s admission of how he deals with the cops and how he instructs his own son.
“Listen, I’m gonna be honest with you, and this is a practice I engage in every time I’m stopped by law enforcement. And I taught this to my son who is now 33 as part of my duty as a father to ensure that he knows the kind of world in which he is growing up. So when I get stopped by the police, I take my hat off and my sunglasses off, I put them on the passenger’s side, I roll down my window, I take my hands, I stick them outside the window and on the door of the driver’s side because I want that officer to be relaxed as possible when he approaches my vehicle. And I do that because I live in America.”
In case the name LaVar Burton doesn’t ring any bells, he is known for his work as the host and producer of Reading Rainbow as well as his work in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This dude is like one step removed from Bill Cosby as a safe and lovable non-scary Black man. Yet he knows as all Black folks in America know, wealth and even fame will not insulate you from the slings and arrows of racism. As we all saw several years ago, you can be a well-known Harvard scholar and professor and the police will be quite happy to brutalize you. Henry Louis Gates anyone?
Yet despite the chorus of Black voices sharing their tales, most of White America is not only immune and but in many cases surprised when they hear of these stories and I want to know why is any of this surprising in 2013? It’s become clear that while we may have laws that talk about equality, equality is a giant myth for many. The sad reality is that true equality and fairness is the exception to the rule for many.
At the end of the day, the vast majority of white Americans spend little time truly interacting with people who are different from them in any deep and meaningful way. On the flipside while Blacks may also spend little time engaging with White Americans in a deep and meaningful way, it’s not exactly the same since for most Blacks, as whites tend to be in positions of power and leadership over Blacks. There is research that supports the notion that many of us lack the ability to feel deeply for people who are different than us. I will be honest, that idea scares the shit out of me since I believe that as humans we should care for our fellow beings. Yet enough time on this dusty rock leads me to believe that I am in the minority in my beliefs. Since as long as I have the starring role as the Black friend, I know we haven’t evolved as far as I would like.
There are no answers, if I had em, I suspect I would be doing a bit more with my life than I am currently doing. Hell I might even be waiting to get the Nobel Peace Prize or some crazy shit like that if I had the answers. However it strikes me that nothing is going to change if we don’t stop being surprised when we hear about the micro aggressions that affect some of us on a daily basis. Instead of surprise and indignation we need to move beyond that and stand up for what is right for all.