On January 2 of this year, I was pulled over for the first time. It was just past midnight and I was driving the speed limit. I even remember thinking I was in no hurry to get home. A half mile earlier, I drove through a yellow light—one of those yellow lights you could either stop for or drive through. I drove through.
I wasn’t scared when I spoke to the policeman; I was annoyed. I hadn’t committed any real crime. The officer confirmed he pulled me over for running the yellow light. He checked my license and registration before letting me go without a ticket. I hadn’t been extra polite, if anything, I had been terse.
In October of 2013, a group of us left our high school’s homecoming dance to go to a friend’s house nearby. Someone had pulled a prank on my friend’s car and left quite a mess in her driveway. We began cleaning up. It was 11 p.m. and a drunken neighbor came out to yell at us. She walked up my friend’s driveway and into the garage to express, loudly, her opinions.
The neighbor continued to bother us so we called the non-emergency phone line. The police arrived and dealt with the situation. We hadn’t been drinking, just car washing and the police took our word for it. One-by-one each of us went home.
I never once thought that I was in harms way because I was interacting with the police. Why would that thought have occurred to me? Why would the police pull a gun on me for running a yellow light? Why would the police arrest me or my group of partying teen friends for calling the cops on a neighbor?
Because I am white.
I have a different experience than black citizens in America. I know for a fact I was treated the way I was because I am white. I was snarky with a cop and was not asked to step out of my car; I was not even given a ticket.
If you are white like me, your interactions with the police have fared far better than our black brothers and sisters. It is not wrong to be treated decently but it is wrong that some people are being treated unfairly.
I don’t think about the difference in treatment because I am white. Regretfully, I haven’t thought about my police encounters through this lens until this past week. The privilege I have as a white citizen is the expectation that the law will be on my side. The same cannot be said for the black community.
It is shameful that we as white people have sat in complacency. We have not listened to the cries from the black community whether it be in regards to police brutality or discrimination in the work place. You may not hate black people but the systems we partake in (and built!) do.
I am guilty of complacency and not educating myself much beyond what I learned of the civil rights movement in school. I have a long way to go in my journey towards anti-racism and, my guess is, so do you. Society was not fixed by Martin Luther King Jr. The fact that he was assassinated alone testifies to the continued unfair treatment of black people
Can you believe how much more dangerous life becomes because of a different skin color? I can’t. It’s unimaginable to me that being an innocent black man jogging in the streets is enough reason for someone to kill. It’s unimaginable to me that being a black woman taking a nap in her own apartment is enough reason for someone to kill. It’s unimaginable to me because no one would dare draw a gun on me, let alone shoot, because I am white.
The police are not the only problem affecting the black community but they are murdering and oppressing innocent black people. And it is an outrage. It is an outrage that other cops stand by and allow it to happen. It is an outrage that not everyone is outraged at these blatant acts of racism.
If you think this is not a problem, that is a problem.
If you think this is not your problem, that is a problem.
We cannot continue to move forward as a society that boasts freedom when our own people are not free to leave their homes without putting their lives at risk.
This is not just a black problem. This is not just a policing problem. This is a societal problem that falls on everyone, especially white people. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that if you are not actively seeking change, you are working against progress. If you are not examining yourself and the systems in place, you are a proponent for the status quo which is a deadly mechanism of oppression and racism.
This will get messy. Property will be damaged. But if you care more about the property than the people, you have your priorities mixed up.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
I am clearly still learning. I won’t get things right all the time and I don’t have this all figured out yet. But I am processing and discussing the issue at hand with those around me. I am trying to be productive rather than destructive. My intention in writing this piece is not to drown out black voices but rather give myself space to process and better understand my role in society.
Here are some steps I want to take moving forward.
Put my money where my mouth is.
- Donate to local and national non-profit organizations that help the black community and other people of color. So far, I have donated more than $1,000 to organizations like Black Lives Matter, NAACP, and Reclaim the Block.
- Shop at black-owned businesses. Do research and show support with dollars.
- Support Black Lives Matter by showing up to protests. Stand in solidarity and raise awareness.
Listen. Really Listen.
- Listen without interrupting. Listen without rebuttal. Listen to learn and be changed.
- Listen to podcasts to help gain understanding of black history and current black challenges.
- Read books by black authors. It’s time to shift our perspectives!
- Watch documentaries.
- Have open discussions.
- Speak up when someone says something I disagree with. Could be at the office, at school, or at dinner. Use my voice.
- Use social media. It can feel disingenuous to share some things on social media, but it shouldn’t. If I can amplify others’ voices through my channels, why wouldn’t I?