The follow-up

In case you are interested in the follow up to my last post, I am posting the column that was accepted by my editor…which has spawned a conversation with my editor and a meeting for next week. I will keep you posted on whether or not, I will keep writing professionally since its really just a side thing I do since my real day is non-profit hack! By the way I have not responded to any of the comments on the last post but may do so in a separate post since I think the comments are interesting and actually speak to some of what happens with multiracial discussions take place.

Me, myself and race

I have been told by many different people at many different times that I put too much thought into race. That perhaps I overreact to things and see race as a factor when it might not be.

You should have met me years ago if you think that, because I really don’t obsess on race that much. To be honest, my White husband is far more likely to get into protracted battles of words online with people about race and White privilege than I ever would in any situation.

However, I do have a column called Diverse-City, race is still an important issue in this country, and I’m still Black. And a lot of people just won’t let me forget the color of my skin, because they still treat me differently than every white person around me. It doesn’t matter how many letters I have amassed after my name. It doesn’t matter what my job is. It doesn’t matter how law-abiding I am. What matters is that, like it or not, people assume things about Black people in general. This is not something that happens to White people.

Oh, I know that White people of various kinds can be judged on various things, like weight or gender. But as a race, White people don’t ever have to worry about most of the population looking at them and assuming that the color of their skin means they will behave in certain ways, like certain foods, enjoy certain music, be more prone to commit crimes, be more likely to have children they can’t afford, and so on.

Problem is, when I point out that I’m being treated in a certain way probably because of my race, I am often asked to prove it. My judgment is questioned. My experiences of an entire lifetime are discarded as irrelevant. My instincts are cast into doubt. Studies that show how Blacks are inequitably treated all the time are inadmissible. In other words, short of being able to bring in a team of researchers to study my life for a few years, nothing will prove to a naysayer that my feelings are on the money.

So, if I speak up, I must be prepared to get all sorts of alternate scenarios and reminders of how far our nation has come. All to invalidate my very real concerns and the evidence of my own experience.

If a parent takes a child away from a playground because someone seems a bit creepy, even if they haven’t gone near a single child in an improper fashion, that’s considered good parenting. I agree.

If a woman flees from a man she thinks might be dangerous, that is considered a wise and proactive move. I agree.

So why does no one else agree that I can claim racism when:

My Black son is harassed by police, multiple times, for merely walking down the street.

My White husband is asked during a traffic stop to explain who I am and why I’m in the car.

Five White people in front of me in line don’t get a second glance when they hand over a credit card, yet I am expected to provide one or two forms of ID, and the cashier looks them over intently for 10 seconds or longer.

I am asked to explain how all Black people feel about a certain issue.

I get my food long after several later-arriving White patrons already got theirs, and their food is nice and steamy while mine is room temperature.

I could go on, but the fact is that I let most of these things slide, and don’t want to dwell on them. It’s just that I occasionally get fresh reminders that are so hard to ignore.

Oh, like eminent Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. being arrested this week for breaking into his own home, even though he had ID to prove he lived there. Because we all know that the nice police officer would have done that to a White homeowner. Yeah, right.

13 thoughts on “The follow-up

  1. Hi Shay,

    I know what you mean!

    Are you kidding me… your husband was asked why you were in the car?? Now THAT is one that I have never heard…

    Yes, it is true… AmeriKKA hasn’t changed a bit since Kunta died…

  2. I wish I were kidding this happened back when we were in Chicago and were newly married…it was a rather surreal moment, being stopped by police and asked to explain who I was and our relationship. Like in America….

  3. White middle-aged female living in Maine here.

    I am not questioning anything you say about being profiled by ordinarily people in everyday life (e.g., the landlord who tells a Black the apartment has already been rented, the White bus rider who walks ten more feet to sit next to a White woman even tho seat next to you is open.) This s– does happen, and I expect that in most cases your hunch is dead on. Really sad we haven’t gotten past this. Yet. (I have hope we are on the way, but a lot of older folks who grew up pre-segregation or who live in redneck enclaves where the races still don’t mix are simply going to have to die off. There isn’t any changing their pea brains.)

    Instead, my comment is addressed to how Blacks including Prof. Gates might want to respond to (real or perceived) disparate treatment. And, I’ll share some stories that hopefully show where I’m coming from.

    I spent my first ten years out of college in a field that is still dominated my men. My direct supervisor was suspicious of anyone who wasn’t a White Southern Baptist Good Ole Boy. One day he offered how the four women in the company would never make it far; he had the gall to say to my face that the company should have hired men instead of us. Not any particular men that he was sorry to see them pass over, just any four men would have been better than four women.

    I was flabbergasted, and I could have walked across the street and filed a complaint with the EEOC. But, I didn’t. Why? I had already soured on the company, and in fact had been laying the groundwork for a change to a whole new field. I didn’t see any benefit to be gained with wasting a minute in court. Instead, I plowed ahead with increased vigor to get into that new field. (The other three women eventuall moved to other companies in the same industry and are all doing extremely well. One is now the head of a state agency. So there!)

    No, I’m not advocating that Blacks not file EEOC suits when there is perceived (or blatant, as in my case) discrimination, but instead I’m saying “stop and think what do I really want and what is the best way to get there?”

    Blacks might want to take a cue from the women’s rights movement. If you want to advance in this White Man’s World (and I’m certainly not saying the White Man has the right to rule the world) you can’t stop at doing things “just as well as” the White Man. You might just have to do things better. There’s a great saying about Ginger Rogers: “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.” Sadly, I think that Blacks are in Ginger Rogers’s shoes; they advance the Black cause and their individual causes best if they admit they have extra hurdles to clear, and simply toil away at that more difficult path. Keep your eye on the prize and don’t get tripped up by not being treated as you should. Beat them at their own game.

    I’m not saying this is right. Or fair. Or easy. I’m just saying this might get you to the reward quicker.

    I look at Prof. Gates in light of my own recent run-in with the law. I was pulled over recently in NH for speeding (I had not seen the 30-mph sign on the rural road). I was on my way to a job and was running late and couldn’t afford to be detained any longer than absolutely necessary.

    The very first thing that came into my mind was the video of the gross police misbehavior in Plano TX involving NFL running back Randy Moats. That relatively new police officer was obviously on a power trip, and I considered that this young policeman might also have some power issues. The most important thing for me at that very moment was to not be late for my job. So, I decided to be incredibly cooperative. I sat quietly, did exactly what he asked, and poured on the yes-sirs and no-sirs.

    He detained me for about ten minutes, checked my license, checked my registration papers and lectured me. The fact that I am white could have helped, but I want to believe that being cooperative and having only one ticket on my record (from the early 80s) was the true reason I was let go with only a warning.

    No one knows what went on within that house in Cambridge. However, if Skip Gates did anything to escalate the situation, I have to say it was poor judgement. Yes there is a long history of police mistreatment of Blacks and who better to know it than Prof. Gates?However, what was the best way to defuse the situation? Keep your cool.

    There is a photo of Gates being taken from the house in handcuffs and in that photo he looks to be yelling. That photo makes me question if Gates might share part of the blame.

    Arguing with the police is sort of like stepping out in a crosswalk when the oncoming car is not slowing down. Yes, the law gives the pedestrian the right of way, but what good is being right if it means three months of traction? Just stay on the sidewalk and wait for the car to pass.

    No question there is racial profiling in our society. There ARE people who are afraid of Black men simply because they are Black men. I feel very badly for Prof. Gates and other Blacks for the unexplained disparate treatment that makes them more apprehensive of the police than I am. However, I can’t help but think if Gates had been exceedingly cooperative, things would have gone better.

    I may be totally off-base; I haven’t walked a mile in your skin. I just wanted to add my perspective.

    G.R.I.T.S.

  4. BGIM, i know i’m (two) days late and a dollar short, but i need to address GRITS’s comment above:

    thanks for your $2 in the collection plate, but it is this same perspective that condones police officers to know that whatever they do, being they are the ones who have been employed to uphold the law, they can and will easily get away with blatant discrimination and violation of constitutional rights. you say dr. gates should have remained cool? seriously? as far as i’m concerned no matter the color of your skin if any police officer of any color violates your rights the need to be reprimanded. this story is deeper than just a color issue, it is a MUCH OVERDUE history lesson everyone in our country desperatley needs. if you fail to know your history, not only will you repeat it but you will end up in an even worse situation than where you left off. this much needed conversation keeps being avoided, ignored, and excused time and time again, situation after situation. every time a citizen is offended and color plays a key role, why are so many most caucasions ready to brush the role race most likely played under the rug?
    secondly, please understand every race has their vices, but for some reason it’s been more accepted to air our the dirty laundry of minorities. if you did not know one single black person personally (and i mean KNOW not KNOW OF…for example you know your close girlfriends, but u know of oprah winfrey) and were to listen to only the news media you would think black men are up to absolutely no good. in all my 25yrs on this planet i have not once heard of how many fatherless, single-parent homes in white america. after much research i now know it’s actually whites who accept most of the welfare from our government. but yet, the typical “ghetto welfare babby momma” usually has a darker skin complextion. let’s please be fair & balanced. a perfect example of this is pittsburg stealer quaterback ben rothlisburger is facing rape charges! THE QUARTERBACK OF THE CURRENT NFL CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM! somehow though, that is barely getting 1/2 a breath of news coverage. but when ben had a motorcyle accident, resulting him being in the hospital for injuries, news reports found no problem finding sympathetic fans holding candles for his recovery. Mind you, when Kobe Bryant was accused of rape a few years ago, there was no shortage of day-by-day coverage of the trial. Once again, do your research.

    Dr. Gates/Cambridge police deals with an issue of power. Gates showed his ID and yet is arrested for freedom of speech on his own property. It was reported that once Gates proved it was his residence instead of apologizing, he stuck around in the man’s kitchen!! FOR WHAT!?! Once again, power. The same individuals who have been employed to protect society (because police officers were actually once call ‘peace officers’), are more known to use fear/scare tactics, all protected by the badge.

    So to close, please go back to in history and learn WHY race is such a hot-button issue. If it was not, the news would not cover it every chance they get. Find the stories that seem a little skewed and questionable. Learn to live with a critical eye, instead of relying on your own experiences. Never forget that perspective is everything, and as soon as you fail to see things from somebody else’s perspective, that is when our nation as a society and community at large will continue to experience strife.

  5. natural nubian asked: you say dr. gates should have remained cool? seriously?

    Absolutely, two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because the cop is a jerk–and please go back and find where I said the cop was right–doesn’t mean you need to teach him a lesson right then and there.

    Things like this happen because TWO people lose their cool. If either person in this instance bites his tongue, the situation doesn’t escalate. Yes, if the cop violates your rights, by all means take action. But not by going at him right then and there and escalating the situation. After all, he has the gun and the handcuffs. Instead, wait for him to leave your property, then at the next available moment, drive down to the precinct and file a report with his captain. Police keep meticulous records. It’s not hard to find out which cops went out on the call, and then gather them, look at the bunch, and pick out the one who did you wrong.

    An unpaid leave of two weeks enforced by the personnel board is going to be more effective than you telling him he isn’t doing his job right.

    I know history (Selma, Birmingham, Medgar Evers, busing, etc.) because I actually lived through all of that. I’m a bit more than twice your age.

  6. I am loving the perspectives from both sides here and it kind of reminds of MLK and Malcolm X. Of course one took the non-violent less reactionary approach while the latter was more in your face and fight back by any means necessary. Blacks have debated between both of those tactics for decades but it appears both tactics are still at play….just with different players. From my perspective, it seems MLK received more of a following for his tactic and reached across color lines with it as well. Malcolm was a harder sell as you can see from how history has written him.

  7. GRITS, i def read you wrong. apologies because i did get the impression that you thought there was a clear-cut right and wrong regarding dr. gates and the arresting officer.
    my beef is where you stated blacks should “:do things better” to advance in the white man’s world. the problem is no one wants to admit it but blacks/minorities are not equal…we are not treated equal and we for dayum sure don’t receive equal treatment. if we were we wouldn’t have to prove ourselves, providing evidence why we should be treated equally as my caucasian counterparts. i def see your perspective, but i always say being a minority and being a white woman is like apples and oranges to me. you and your offspring have been blessed with the complextion of protection from offenses you will never have to experience. yes, there may be overlapping gray areas (because like my granny said ‘when it comes to struggle we all have a twin’), but ingrained discrimination based soley on my melanin content alone is something that is incomparable as far as i’m concerned.

  8. @G.R.I.T.S.: “However, I can’t help but think if Gates had been exceedingly cooperative, things would have gone better.”

    If Rosa Parks “had been exceedingly cooperative, things would have gone better.”

    But we wouldn’t have the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

  9. The problem with trying to compare Gates to Rosa Parks is that we aren’t having a national debate about the underlying police call. We all want the police to investigate possible crimes in progress. Whether the subjects possibly breaking and entering are Black or White. We can agree on that, can’t we?

    Parks was arrested for violating BAD LAW. The law said she had to give up her seat to White Folk.

    Gates wasn’t arrested simply for being in the house. The Civil Rights Act made sure that Gates had the right to be hired by Harvard and to live in campus housing…just like the white profs.

    Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct. Here is the cop’s version of why he arrested Gates: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/23/AR2009072301073_2.html?sid=ST2009072301777 And, I am not saying the cop’s version is the God’s Truth, but just that IF this is true, it would support the arrest.

    Wikipedia states that “[w]hen Parks refused to give up her seat, a police officer arrested her. As the officer took her away, she recalled that she asked, ‘Why do you push us around?” The officer’s response as she remembered it was, “I don’t know, but the law’s the law, and you’re under arrest.’ ”

    No disorderly conduct there. Rosa Parks isn’t yelling at the cop and impugning his Momma.

    No one is saying that Whites have a right to say nasty things to cops.

    What we have here is much more nuanced than Rosa Parks. Gates is saying the White Cop didn’t treat him with the respect the cop would have given a White Man. I’m just saying that mouthing off to the cops wasn’t the best way for Gates to earn respect for himself and other Blacks. Engaging in possibly disorderly conduct gives the cop grounds to arrest you for…disorderly conduct.

    Read these reports: Black Officer Weighs In on Gates’s Arrest, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2009/07/24/black-officer-weighs-in-on-gatess-arrest/ where a black police office supported the white cop. Look at the picture that a neighbor took on his cell phone. Looks to me like Gates is yelling.

    The same photo appears with this article: PROF RAGES AT ‘RACIST’ COPShttp://www.nypost.com/seven/07212009/news/nationalnews/prof_rages_atracist_cops_180491.htm This article contains all sorts of unsavory details about Gates’ behavior. IF you believe them, they cast Gates in an unfavorable light.

    I’ve not said that Blacks and Whites are treated equally. Quite the opposite. I saying Gates might have escalated the situation. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Doesn’t help his case that his neighbor snapped the picture of him yelling.

  10. @G.R.I.T.S.: “The problem with trying to compare Gates to Rosa Parks is that we aren’t having a national debate about the underlying police call.”

    Don’t be so sure. A national debate has been raging for sometime. It’s called “racial profiling.” Whether it had a hand in this incident is one of those unknowables, and can only be surmised by the facts on the ground, because I don’t think Crowley is going to be forthcoming about his motivations.

    “Parks was arrested for violating BAD LAW. The law said she had to give up her seat to White Folk.”

    There’s another law, largely unwritten (You don’t mouth off to a cop, especially if you’re black and he’s white.). I think that we can agree on that, can’t we?

    Gates was arrested for challenging a BAD COP. Where the two instances connect is that both involved “white assumptive power.”

    “Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct. Here is the cop’s version of why he arrested Gates….”

    That link is useless, unless it’s your aim to present only the side that supports your next statement: “And, I am not saying the cop’s version is the God’s Truth, but just that IF this is true, it would support the arrest.”

    Your provisional “IF” does nothing more than show your bias against Professor Gates, and your bias for Crowley, since you still find Gates deserving of arrest without offering his side. It’s a pretense at neutrality. Of course, Gate’s account would serve the same purpose that Crowley’s did, to exonerate him.

    But, at least, we’d have both sides!

    A man’s house is his castle. In his house he’s king, lord, and master. Texas recognizes that fact and has established a law, right or wrong, to exploit that notion.

    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/012008dnmetfightingback.6a8cbd.html

    Is this another example of a BAD LAW?

    What you’re not recognizing is that to disrespect an officer of the law is not grounds for an arrest. And if you’re in your own home, those grounds become even more tenuous.

    If you listen to Crowley as he reports to HQ, what you hear from him is that Professor Gates was uncooperative, but appeared to be the occupant of the house.

    This also supports the suspicions of the woman who initially called 9-1-1, who, by the way, was reticent to call in the first place, but did it to allay the fears of another.

    Hell broke lose when Professor Gates’ insisted on knowing Crowley’s name and badge number. In Crowley’s official report of the incident, he claims he gave that information to Professor Gates several times. If that was the case, why would Professor Gates follow the officer out of the house and onto his porch?

    Was this Crowley’s setup–by not answering the professor– to takedown Professor Gates once he exited the house? I believe so!

    “I’m just saying that mouthing off to the cops wasn’t the best way for Gates to earn respect for himself and other Blacks. Engaging in possibly disorderly conduct gives the cop grounds to arrest you for…disorderly conduct.”

    How, pray tell, does Professor Gates’ behavior impact on me or other blacks? I don’t know the professor. What a black person does, or doesn’t do, neither add, nor detract from, the respect I give myself, or the respect that others should afford me.

    There’s that “weasel” word again, “possibly.” Inside his home, Professor Gates may act anyway he pleases, only bound my other laws, such as arson, murder, assault, and so forth.

    No where is it written in law, that “disorderly conduct [If it truly occurred.) gives the cop grounds to arrest you…” while in your home. It just not so. That’s why Crowley had to entice the good professor onto his porch, while Gate’s still insisted on knowing the cop’s name and badge number.

    Check out the police report, Professor Gates was arrested for “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior, in a public place,” not for “mouthing off” to a cop. And the public place? His front porch.

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0723092gates1.html

    Although Crowley’s police report has Lucia Whalen identifying two black males with backbacks, her call to 9-1-1 has her saying that she didn’t know their ethnicity, and thought perhaps one was Hispanic.

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/07/27/gates.arrest/index.html

    “Read these reports: Black Officer Weighs In on Gates’s Arrest….”

    Although not of the same numbers supporting Crowley, there are several white officers supporting Professor Gates, and denouncing Crowley for his tactics. Not surprisingly, they’re retired officers. Blue is always true to Blue, a brotherhood that will often lie and break the law to support fellow officers.

    There’s a video of police officers agreeing to cover up an officer’s rear-ending of a drunk suspect’s car. The drunk charges were eventually dropped against the woman, once the video went public. Here’re others:

    http://search.aol.com/aol/search?s_it=topsearchbox.search&q=video+police+officers+lying+drunk+woman+cover+up+arrest+video

    Now if Professor Gates was actually guilty of anything, as Crowley maintains, by arresting him , why were charges against him dropped.

    “I saying Gates might have escalated the situation. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    “Doesn’t help his case that his neighbor snapped the picture of him yelling.”

    It’s telling that you suggest that Professor Gates was the only one expected to behave properly. Again, you use the weasel word, “might have,” and begin the next sentence with “Sort of….” If Professor Gate’s behavior is so nebulous, why not give him the benefit of the doubt?

    What we do know is that Crowley was the one with a badge and gun, and with a sworn duty to protect and serve and not correct and preserve…his wounded ego. He was the professional. He was the one with the training, and it was not to ensnare Professor Gates, but to “defuse” the situation, and keep it from “escalating.”

    Crowley was trained in such measures, and taught “diversity” and “profiling.” He, above anyone in this situation, was required to comport himself in a manner that wouldn’t disgrace his badge, and his profession. The burden wasn’t on Professor Gate to behave in any manner. He was in his own home, and not breaking in laws.

    The only thing that was self-fulfilling about this whole incident were the actions of the white cop who didn’t believe he received sufficient deference from a haughty black man, and was dead-set on putting his uppity butt in his place.

    Crowley had already been arrested when the photo that you refer to was snapped. If you are ever placed in chains for something you didn’t do, I hope you’ll yell, too!

    “No disorderly conduct there. Rosa Parks isn’t yelling at the cop and impugning his Momma.”

    No self-respecting academic, white or black, is going to be caught dead using the vernacular of the streets.

    It took them too many years to reach their level of sophistication, and scholarly preeminence, not to maintain that decorum even while being arrested.

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