I’m done. I’m done fighting, trying to explain, and calmly put the facts in context for people who don’t want to listen. I want to be over racism like white people want to be over racism. I don’t want to hear about good intentions anymore, because like excuses, everyone has them.
The difference is, I’m not allowed to forget about racism. I can’t move beyond racism, because no matter how much you will it away, it is systematic, engrained in the very fiber of our society. I get the confusion. It used to be easier to recognize racism, but the days of “You have to use another entrance” are gone. We made the superficial racial disparity go away – mission accomplished! Unfortunately, now we have to deal with the aftermath of making the overt go covert. We stuffed those racist feelings deep in the bottom of our thoughts and only let them out in small bursts of extreme political contempt-ment.
Now these bursts are difficult to ignore. In our age of immediate information it becomes more difficult to hide the subtle racial indiscretions. We are ever more in tune with the fact that racism is no longer black and white. Pardon the pun, but there are more races, more colors, and more differences that we cannot ignore. They were always there, but now they have an online profile. Now every color has a voice, and thus not so easily silenced.
A few days ago, Danièle Watts, an up-and-coming actress hot off the heels of Django Unchained success and quickly gaining a following as a public figure, was detained for a public display of affection toward her husband. Someone called in an act of lewd behavior in a car nearby. Allegedly, there was a couple engaging in a sexual act with the car doors open. Danièle and her husband were detained and believed to be the culprit. Both of them took to Facebook to tell their story. She claimed she was detained because the cops assumed she was a prostitute, and her husband the trick. He echoed her statements in his Facebook page. He’s white. She’s black. He gave the cops his ID when they asked for it. She didn’t, and she didn’t have to either. They were detained for fitting a description, and they talked about it openly on their Facebook pages. Raw with emotion and no barriers, they put out the information from their point of view.
Everyone agreed this was disgusting and ludicrous up until the bit about the ID. This is where the threads in my Facebook newsfeed divide. One group upset at the claim that she could have done this on purpose, that she did it to prove a point on principle, and instead should have just handed over her ID. The comments further blame the husband for taking pictures rather than looking for help. This is the wrong premise. Give up on your principles? Concede and hope for the best? Why should anyone do that when experience has taught you that’s not what happens! Why go against what you stand for and give in? Who was he supposed to call for help? Why is it that we are so quick to look at the afflicted and believe they could have done something different rather than expect more from the people that have taken an oath to “serve and protect?”
And for those of you who question the validity of arguing over ID, let me clarify. I was taught never to give the police anything if I believed I had done nothing wrong. If I were in the car and the police stopped me, my mother said, stop on the side of the road but don’t put the window all the way down when they come over to talk to you, just enough so that you can hear them and they can hear you. Then, ask them to follow you to our house or the nearest public area with a lot of people.
This was my mother’s first request when I got my license.
As a woman, as a person of color, I was taught from a very early age that you couldn’t always trust authority. I was taught to fear it, but not necessarily trust that their intentions were in my best interest. Why? Because even when you are right, you are still somehow at fault. You can kiss that ID good bye. The police won’t return it. Sure you can file a complaint, but that means you have to spend the time on the phone and in person, at the police station, and the DMV. It falls on you to prove that the wrongdoing was on the very system entrusted to enforce the law.
But back to what happened a few days ago. So what if she used the platform she has as a recognizable figure to bring attention to authority figures overstepping rights. Authority figures treating people as guilty for living. In 1999, Danny Glover, well-known and beloved actor from “Lethal Weapon” went unrecognized and treated as any other black man by NYC cabbies, ignored. He claimed cab after cab passed him by as he was clearly trying to hail one. He claimed once they were able to find one stopped at a red light he and his daughter were surprised to find he locked his doors and wouldn’t let them in. He raised a flag, he was indignant. Granted, not a police situation, but an example of a public figure forcing us to look at how no matter your accomplishments the color of your skin will dictate how people treat you in this country.
Then a not even a month ago, Charles Belk was detained 6 hours on a curb in Los Angeles for “fitting the description” of a bank robber who also happened to be black while fully clothed. This man is a Harvard graduate who was on his way to an Emmy party, and a prominent producer. The problem is he doesn’t carry his diploma with him everywhere. If only! Instead, the racial profiling that we proclaim to eschew for fact and reason succeeded once again, and Mr. Belk was held on a $100,000 bail. His only crime was that he was in the same city as another black man. But this time around Mr. Belk had something on his side that previous generations hadn’t: photographic evidence and a social media platform. People were shocked and appalled. How could this happen? Police apologists came out from every corner, because they face such a difficult job. They are human after all; we should give them a pass. May I remind you, the victim is human as well. And at this point the rate of victims is far too high to ignore.
But my point is not a single person of color is surprised. This isn’t an isolated event. We’re tired of racism too. Believe us, we’d like to be treated equally. It’s a nice concept. This is just one more example of a systematic problem we wake up to every day. This is just one more on a long laundry list of why we’re not surprised when we see unchecked police behavior get out of control, or the arguments saying, “we weren’t there, we’ll never know exactly what happened” are used to excuse people in power. So when we take our message to social media because someone will hear us, and the mob mentality can actually work in our favor; only to see it broken down in broad terms, and the use of photography and the rapid spread of information is vilified as unreliable, I get upset. And I must respond. That’s the easiest angle, the umbrella excuse, because if we start the “what if” game, we can play forever, and displace blame for eternity. The problem is what if and intentions hold no argument against actions. And for those of us on the fringe, those of us that have faced the unchecked hand of justice, for us this finally allows us the upper hand in the conversation. At the very least, starts leveling the playing field. We’re talking. Please listen.
***I understand there could more to the Danièle Watts story has more to it, and that she may have blown this out of proportion to what happened. It's all alleged, because we weren't there.