Had to delete and repost. I completely changed the title, and the URL and FB preview wouldn't, and I didn't want that. Apologies to those who commented.
I know that a white person writing about race is always a dicey situation. I understand that. There's a lot of issues minorities face that we will never know about, but I want to talk about an experience I had that showed me what it was like to be profiled off a vague description, and discuss the history that underlies the black experience in America today
They aren't protesters. They're rioting and looting!That is one of the things I've heard multiple times in my circle. It's infuriating. It's ignorant of the situation (only one night of rioting/looting was committed by Ferguson residents. Everything since has been, by the police's own accounting, the work of people not from Ferguson). It's the privilege of people who've never experienced profiling or harassment by law enforcement. And it's based on their own biases that they don't even recognize as such. As whites, we tend to view things through the prism of our own experiences, and don't understand that our experience isn't universal.
We're lucky as white people. We've been the dominant race on the planet for a good thousand years. Even now, when people are like, hey, we elected a black President, there's no more racism, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of elected officials, policemen, etc., are white people. White people control the vast majority of wealth in the world. A lot of that wealth was built by the blood, sweat and tears of minorities, too. It's not by accident that the largest economies in the world are the ones that enslaved black people, colonized continents, and exploited massive natural resources that those continents held. "That was in the past, that isn't our fault," doesn't cut it, especially when we continue to make life difficult for minorities.
Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, but what happened after the Civil War? We gave the South quick readmission to the Union, pulled the occupation soldiers out, and let them go back to oppressing black people like they hadn't lost a war and a battle of ideologies. And so, from 1868-1968, black people reverted to the same state of terror they faced under slavery. They were prevented from voting, from using the same public facilities, from getting the same education, from getting better paying jobs, from everything that white people got from society.
Black people were forced to be separate. Separate in their schools, churches, jobs, military service. Separate in their newspapers, magazines, (in)ability to vote, and ability to own property. They were forced to be separate, and they were treated as lesser than white people. The 1960s came, and America found its conscience for the most part, and laws were passed to give black people what they always should have had: equality under the law. The laws still didn't change many people's feelings, especially in law enforcement, which had been ingrained to look at minorities as criminals for decades, and they targeted blacks for petty crimes that whites would get away with. The result was riots by black people who'd had enough of being treated as second-class citizens, who'd tired of being abused by a white majority.
Riots meant white flight to the suburbs. With that white flight went the wealth that kept up tax revenues, and so the cities began to decay, as their tax base dwindled and they lacked the funds to maintain the cities that had been built over the past century after the Industrial Revolution. The schools crumbled, the educational levels dropped, and police quality was diminished as the police forces were cut to balance budgets. Crime grew in the cities, and who was left to fend with all this? Minorities. Black people.
At the same time, a drug war was declared, and while it targeted all races equally at its inception in the 1960s, by the late 1970s it had moved away from white people and towards minorities. By the middle of the 1980s, it was targeting blacks at record levels through laws like stiffer penalties for crack cocaine over powdered cocaine. How did that target blacks, you might ask? Because crack was predominantly used by minorities, and powdered cocaine was the province of affluent white teenagers, actors, musicians, and Wall Street bankers.
In the 1990s, the "broken windows" police method became a big hit due to its success in cities like Boston and New York, and began to expand to other cities. At the same time, a post-Cold War military began to give its surplus military equipment to cities and towns under the guise of fighting the drug war, and so those targeted minorities now faced drug raids conducted by cops resembling infantry soldiers. After 9/11, these raids got even worse, and because New York was paranoid, "stop and frisk" began. As court records have shown, minorities were disproportionately targeted. These practices spread to other cities and towns, and then there were places like Ferguson, Missouri, where such practices had a long history.
They're just playing the race card. Why do liberals and minorities always play the race card?
Yeah, there's a race card being played, all right, but that race card is all too often played by whites, ingrained by centuries of discrimination. It's not that all whites are racist, or even that a majority of whites are racist. But, we all have prejudices. Some of it comes from humanity's instinctual distrust of things that are different. Some of it comes from social conditioning. As the President said in March 2008 in his speech about Jeremiah Wright and race, his own white grandmother admitted to crossing the street whenever a black man was walking towards her. That mentality doesn't go away overnight, and that leads me to my next point.
Expecting black people to assimilate in 40 years time after white people spent the better part of four centuries to make sure they were they treated different, acted different, and were different is completely without merit. 40 years to assimilate and not feel less than after 400 years of being treated as just that. It's not reasonable at all.
I was profiled three years ago off a vague description and met with overwhelming force. The same thing happens to young black men every day.Half of all black men in America have been arrested by age 23. Again, that's not an accident. It's a feature of a system that targets black men. Time after time, the "random" searches in city after city just happen to target black men first, paints them as criminals, and puts them at a disadvantage from the start.
Now, for my story. In 2011, I was out of work and driving a junker of a car, a 1993 Lumina that was well worn and rusted. The heater didn't work. The air conditioning didn't work. It was what I had, though. I was driving home from a friend's house in West Bloomfield, Michigan, which is an affluent suburb of Detroit. I'd just crossed a traffic light when I saw the lights in my rearview mirror. I was like, okay, I wasn't speeding, I didn't blow a light, I'll be fine.
As I slowed down, I was directed to the center lane, where, to my astonishment, three other patrol vehicles surrounded my car and blocked me in. An officer came to my window, asked for my usual information. He came back, and asked where I'd been and what I had been doing. I explained my night. He walked away again. A second officer came and asked if they could search my car. At this point, I was seriously starting to worry, and I could see at least a half-dozen officers around the car. I consented, mainly because I wanted to go home really badly.
A female officer shined her flashlight around my backseat, and then opened my trunk and proceeded to search through it. I stuck my head out a bit to apologize for it being so messy, and was ordered to get back in. Finally she closed the trunk. A third officer, senior based on the stripes and ribbons he wore, came up and gave me back my things. He said I was free to go. I asked him why all this had happened. He said there had been a white man driving a white four-door sedan that had been impersonating a cop, pulling over people and robbing them. He apologized for the search, but said they couldn't be too careful, and told me to go on my way.
If I had been black, I am certain I would've been pulled from my car and cuffed. They wouldn't have been polite. They wouldn't have asked to search my car. Why do I believe that? It's what happens every day across America to black men. I'm white, and for such a vague description of a white man, they saw fit to involve four vehicles and at least six officers. If I were black, it would have been so much worse, I guarantee it.
So yes, I got, for one night, a glimpse of what it's like to be a black man. I understand what it feels like. And that's why, more than anything, I stand with those in Ferguson, because no one should have to feel that way, let alone feel that way every single day of their lives.