Privilege, Starbucks, Neighborhood Watch – and the pervasive crime of white apathy

Things White Folks Don’t Knowmsa q

The hardest thing for me to reconcile in my life today,  is that I have children I love and would give my life for whom I know hear about white people in ways that do not describe me. Yet still, they do describe white America. Words that are not false, are not overstated, but in fact are proven out over and over in the daily life of us all.   It brought me to my choice – my choice of voice or silence – marching or watching from the sidelines.

I am a family friend of a Black American family, and I get the perks of outings with the children. I am that uncle that loves to spoil them – loves to hear them – loves to be in touch with the amazing world of brilliant and aspiring children. Any adult in this role knows what I am talking about. We are reminded how smart they are – we are reminded how vital and essential their exposure to and experience of the world. And we know that the wonder we once had for the world and life – returns to us gazing through their eyes.

When one child gets up to go to the bathroom at a restaurant, I stand between the door and the ones remaining at the table – equal distance so I can see the bathroom door entered and those at the table undisturbed. I do this because they are children and because they are in my care.  But I do it more in ways that no one knows because they are children of color – Black children – that do not carry or share my privilege. No one will touch them, speak to them or reach them in any disparaging way – not when they are in my charge. The intolerable reality is, I do have to watch and I do have to be more vigilant. And that tells me things all of white America needs to know.

Leaving the theater as we approached the down elevator to parking,  a white man stepped away from a Black woman in a manner I have honed my sight to recognize. It isn’t difficult, and it isn’t a mistake when noticing the airs of a supremacist, a bigot or racist. One more Black person came toward the elevator and I saw him grappling with his position. I stepped back from the children and put my hand on his arm – leaned in and whispered “this car is not for you.” He knew and acknowledged what I was talking about. His disapproval now directed at me – he stepped back to wait for another car.  I will not allow him near them, or an utterance under his breath to reach their ears.

My rage was subdued by my insistence on normalcy for the children and disruption of our outing. This subject is above my pay grade and is to be reserved for parents and their children. They need no input from me. Though subdued on my face and in my demeanor, my rage was beyond anything I have ever felt. I wanted to hurt him but they were there. They were not subjected to a thread of it. It’s not the only time or only thing I’ve experienced while in the company of these three exquisite young girls.  I looked toward the man with a boundaried nod, shuffling this laughter-occupied group of girls into the elevator.  No one but me and the Black woman who arrived behind us knew a thing. She was the mass-tilting reason he paused about entry. She knew it. Black people know. They have had to be hyperaware for generations. She gazed into my eyes on the three floor trip down, in a way I have considered over and over as to all that her look had held. It was one of understanding and compassion – but also carried a glimpse of fear and admonishment that perhaps I might not be endowed with such clarity and vigilance in the future. I am white, and I have the privilege of forgetting what others endure.

Two Black men were put into handcuffs for sitting while black in a Starbucks. They refused to leave and were arrested. They were asked to leave because they are Black. This is confirmed by white customers who occupy tables with no purchase yet made – waiting for the rest of their party. The many tweets and comments by white people saying “there must be more to the story” are mistaken or racist bias or both. The police who arrested them are wrong. Everything is wrong with this event.

A dear friend of mine asks these questions that no white person can answer – not without  the glaring face of complicity or self-indulgent denial.

“How can I or my children tell the difference between a white person who will shoot us and a white person who won’t?
How do we ask the police for help when we don’t know what KIND of officer will show up—100% compliance will still get you killed, ask Mesa PD ‘bout that. Don’t tell me if I follow orders I’ll be safe, because I will NOT be safe. Miss me with all of THAT bullshit.
Which Starbucks can I wait in for my client, how do I know which door to knock on in my community when I need help?
Are we at the point where white folks have to put HUGE safety pins on their door posts? Businesses have to hang POC welcome signs in their windows?

Until we face ourselves if we are white – we have not faced the truth. The truth is, this is our responsibility – even if you believe it is a construct in which you had no participation. You are participating today – and in so doing you stand on one side or the other. silence is the selection of a position. It is the selection of truth or denial- and it is the selection for racism or equality. Which do you choose?

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