CITY-DATA.COM Chelsea, MI the town I grew up in.
When I was a senior in high school I was at a party and the police showed up to break it up. Instead of waiting around to get in trouble, a group of friends and I took off running. We heard the police yell, “Stop”, but there was no way that we were going to allow ourselves to get caught by the police. We ran and a few police officers chased us, but being athletic 17-18 year olds, we got away from the police after an extended foot chase. We were not caught and our identities were never found out.
Were my friends and I making poor choices at that party? Of course. Were we immature and full of cockiness? Most definitely.
But not for one second did we think that running from the cops would ever end in our physical harm, let alone our death, by the hands of the police.
Many white people who grew up in white America at some point in their lives have made similar poor judgments.
In another instance of extremely poor choices when I was a teenager, a group of friends and I decided that it would be a good idea to go into a building that we knew had alcohol stored in it and take it. We broke in, took what we wanted, and proceeded to have a great night. We all woke up the next morning to the terrible realization of what we had done. We made a pact to not say anything to anyone about what had happened, hoping that we would not get caught.
The police quickly figured out what had happened, the party we had been at was near to where the burglary took place. The police then started talking to every person at the party.
When the police called my house to say they were coming to talk to me, I told my parents about the police being on their way and that I had nothing to do with the break-in the officer was talking about on the phone. When the cop arrived and started asking me questions, I looked at that cop straight in the eye and lied. I told him I knew nothing and had no idea what burglary he was talking about. The officer did know that I was there since someone had already told him the actual story. The cop said to me calmly, “Tell me the truth of what happened because if you tell me another lie again, I am taking you to the police station.” So I told him what had happened.
My parents cried because of what I had done and that I had lied to them. The gossip train got rolling pretty quickly and the news of what we had done was somewhat of a big deal, for the town of about 10,000 people that I grew up in. We were high school athletes and many of us had parents who were respected in the community.
But you know what sentences we received for theft and breaking and entering? Nothing. No charges were pressed. No criminal records ever got attached to our names. We were able to apologize to the owners of the building that we had robbed. The owners agreed to not press charges in exchange that we serve community service to them for a set period of time. Our high school suspended us from athletic competition for 1 month.
We were not arrested, we never feared for our lives.
We were white in white America.
We made poor choices.
I am fortunate enough based on my various privileges that my life has not been significantly more difficult.
People who are not white do not get the privileges that I received.
People who are not white would’ve been killed for running from the police and then many in the general public would’ve tried to justify their death, saying things like, “well if they wouldn’t have run they would still be alive.”
That statement, besides being sick, is also not true since there arecountless examples of Black people just going about their day-to-day lives who were killed by the police.
But let’s imagine that my friends or I were killed for running from the police.
That’s the thing, you actually can’t imagine it, because it nearly never happens.
White people do not regularly get killed for doing stupid crimes or for just being, this is a privilege we have.
Dylann Roof murders 9 black people in a church and comes out unhurt, wearing a bullet proof vest, and is bought fast food all by thepolice. Dylann Roof is a famous example of how the police treat white people accused of crimes, but his treatment is not an anomaly. Here are ten other examples of police disarming and not killing violent white people. White privilege protects white people from the police, here are twenty examples of how it works.
Korryn Gaines is killed for an outstanding warrant for disorderly conduct, John Crawford for shopping at Walmart while talking on the phone, Tamir Rice for playing, Rekia Boyd for standing in a group,Betty Jones for being in her house, Alton Sterling and Eric Garner for selling things, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and Corey Jones for driving. I selected just a few of the names of black people who have been killed recently by the police. The list grows. Meanwhile, unarmed Black men are seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.
Imagine if my friends and I had been black when we broke in and stole that alcohol. We would now all have criminal records, which would’ve made every aspect of our lives immensely more difficult if not nearly impossible. Instead of having a criminal record, I went to college, found apartments to live in, became a teacher, got married, got my Masters degree, have good credit, can financially support my children, and am working to become a National Board certified teacher.
All of these things would not have happened if charges were pressed against my friends and I.
I was young, arrogant, bored, and stupid. The vast majority of the teenagers I teach or have taught are smarter than I was at their age. Yet, if they ever make a much simpler mistake than I made, they pay for their mistakes with their actual lives and people try to justify their death. Or they become so caught up in the criminal justice system that no matter the offense, their life trajectory is now nowhere near where it was before their mistake.
If you are a parent you can look at my poor choices and say to yourself, “my kid will never make any mistakes like you made”. I hope you are right, but I also know in white America kids do stupid stuff all the time. The difference is when white kids do it people say, “its just kids being kids” or “they will learn from their mistakes”.
But when kids of color make those same poor teenage filled choices they are labeled as thugs and are given harsh penalties (i.e. jail) to “alter” their lifestyle.
The extremely lenient penalty that I received still scared the mess out of me and taught me a lesson that has forever altered my life. Leniency and educating kids on their mistakes will work with the vast majority of kids who make poor choices.
The only reason I was afforded those privileges is because I grew up white, in white America.
To view this piece on Huffington Post click here.
If only Alton Sterling would’ve done what the police asked then he would be alive. While this statement may seem logical in the experiences of many white people, this statement is a fallacy to nearly every other race of people as they interact with the police throughout history in our country.
I heard this same statement uttered when Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Eric Garner were murdered and after nearly every other Black person who was killed by the police.
I’m a white teacher that has taught in schools that are nearly all Black on the South Side of Chicago since 2007. During my 1st year of teaching, a 9th grade male student showed up late to my 1st period class crying. This was abnormal behavior for him, after a conversation with him I found out that two police officers had held him at gun point on his way to school, made him get on the ground, and called him names until they realized he wasn’t who they thought he was. If only he would’ve not been walking while Black…
This was the first story that made me think that the experiences that I had with the police, as a white person, were not the same experiences shared by my students.
Now entering my 10th year of teaching in Chicago I have learned that interacting with the police while being Black in America is vastly different than being white.
The law has always worked against Black people and for white people. A historical example that helped me come to this realization is the murder of Emmett Till. Emmett a 13 year old Black kid from Chicago was murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Emmett’s actions were so “heinous” that he was beaten, mutilated, and then his dead body was thrown in a river. If only Emmett would’ve not whistled….
The two white men were found innocent. Emmett’s mother Ms. Mobley decided to have an open casket so the world could see what had been done to her son. The rest of the world saw what happened and Black people in America took action because of his murder.
But what did many white Americans do? Likely the same thing that most do today; react with shock, blame the victim, have sadness, and maybe have empathy for a little while then go about their life. These were not privileges that Black Americans had. They could not go back to their “normal” lives, because normal for them meant at all times they were in danger.
Unlike the 1950’s when anyone could kill a Black person and get away with it, today primarily the police are the only ones who can kill Black Americans and legally get away with it, time after time.
It’s far too easy as a white person to just say, “if only he/she would’ve” then they would be alive. Why is it that we white people look for any way possible to blame Black people for their own death?
But we ignore all of this and instead continually blame the victim time after time.
The police are here to “serve and protect” whom they are trained to protect. They are trained to protect people of my complexion. They are trained to hunt everyone else.
It has been hard to grasp that while I am told that the police exist to protect me they harm so many others.
So many white people are deathly afraid of being labeled a racist but our collective white inaction continues to allow racism to exist and operate. Unless you are actively resisting racism as a white person you continue to allow it to happen.
As white people we must:
1) Educate ourselves on race. Since our country is so segregated by race your actual interactions with people of other races may be extremely limited. So education becomes key. Here are some ways how to begin the education.
2) Start having possibly uncomfortable conversations with our white family, friends, and coworkers. The idea that you shouldn’t talk religion and politics with family just allows racism to continue because white people won’t talk about it. Here’s some helpful tips on how to get the conversation going.
3) We must use social media to bring attention to these issues then take some form of direct action to help end the cycle. For ideas click here.
As a history teacher I know that my race has been and continues to be responsible for the vast majority of terrible things that have/continue to happen in the world.
I also believe that to end racism we white people must educate ourselves, other white people and not be afraid to speak up. We must do this to dismantle the privilege that allows us to view the police as protectors while Black people have always and continue to view the police as threats to their very existence.
So next time you hear someone say, “If only he/she would’ve….”, challenge it.
View this piece on HuffingtonPost.com by clicking here.
After the Donald Trump rally was stopped by protestors in Chicago, BBC radio contacted me about speaking on the BBC Radio 5 Live Station. They reached me by Twitter where they came across some of the protest videos that I had shared.
When I spoke with the show’s producer it was made to seem that it would be myself (a protestor ) and someone else from the rally who was a supporter. That was not the case the other person on the phone, was a Trump supporter, not at the rally, who writes for a self-proclaimed conservative news website.
In case the player is not working you can use this link as well. The interview starts at 3:07:10 and goes until 3:31:21
If you haven’t heard the name Cedric Chatman, then you should know his name. Cedric is another tragic example of a black youth being killed by police and a city trying to cover up the murder. Cedric was killed nearly three years ago, almost two years before Laquan McDonald. To no surprise to anyone in Chicago, Rahm is currently trying to prevent the video from being released.
Black Americans being killed by police is not just a Chicago problem. This is an American problem.
I can’t sit back and witness the continued murder of black Americans, while far too many white Americans sit back and say nothing at all about it or even worse, blame the victims themselves.
As a white person who grew up in a majority white area, I know how white people view the police. They help keep us safe. The only times a white person fears a cop is when we are going more than 15mph over the speed limit and spot them in our rearview or when they show up to peacefully break up our youthful parties. The general consensus among whites is that the police won’t harm us, or our children; they will save us from the bad guys and give us due process if we mess up. If any interaction falls outside of this norm, it is ludicrous.
As we have sadly seen over the past few years, the world does not operate like this for black Americans, whiteness lets us have that sacred, safe privilege.
I know if you don’t experience something personally it’s hard to really internalize it. But this is the very reason why the intense, disturbing, police videos are so important to see.
Of course, no one wants to see someone being killed on camera.
But if you don’t watch it, then it never happened.
If white America is as tired of hearing about race and racism as some media outlets claim, then there are ways to help.
Start by giving a damn. I could call this empathy, but we are past that point in this struggle.
White culture tends to blame the victim, not the police officer, with comments like, “If Eric Garner had just… “ “If Laquan McDonald would’ve…”, or “If Tamir Rice’s parents would’ve…”.
Or we try to deflect from the real conversation about racism and ask questions like, “What about black on black crime? Why don’t black people care about that?”. Firstly, black people do care. Secondly, they protest it, which just doesn’t get the press coverage that black conflict gets on mainstream media.
Even comments like “Most police are good” are harmful. Yes, I agree that most police are good, but we’re focusing on the ones that aren’t. It is clear that there is an issue with the police and/or police training that needs to be addressed in this country. This has been going on for decades and as an example, Chicago operated Homan Square, a secret police site used to illegally hold and torture primarily black Chicagoans.
Here is a list of all the black people killed by police across America from 1999-2014, if you still need more proof.
So what can white Americans do?
- Listen to black people when they share experiences with race.
Some white Americans would rather go out of their way to find the most random black person saying how race isn’t a problem anymore and that black America just needs to “get over it” then actually listen to the overwhelming amount of black narratives and stories that show how racism is still so prevalent in our country. Rule of thumb, if it is just a black person sitting in their car talking about how racism isn’t real anymore you need a more credible source and for that matter if you only quote Ben Carson as your “black source” you again need find a more credible source.
2. Read articles, books, and narratives about race. The authors of these writings should be black.
There is a plethora of researched articles and books about race out there. It may not be comfortable to learn about how racism benefits us as white people and what white privilege is and does for us, but if you really want to consider yourself empathic or even Christian for that matter then you need to spend the time educating yourself. Here are a few good places to start.
3. STOP listening to white people on the news tell you about black people.
This isn’t specific to any news or TV station (although some are much worse than others). But, if you are getting your information about issues of race, including but not limited to police abuses, violence, protests, racism, etc., from this source, then you need to stop and refer back to the previous point #2.
4. Put yourself in the minority.
Go to areas of the city that aren’t white. (No you won’t be killed, robbed, raped or shot at—actually the odds are better that those things would happen in a white area, but that is a different article.) The first step with this point is realizing that yes, you are welcome and yes, it is safe. Try to take the images portrayed in movies out of your head. Try to limit your unnecessary fears. Use websites like Yelp & Trip Advisor to help you figure out where you want to go. There are great places to eat, shop, and see in black communities no matter what city you live in. When you go, plan to interact, not just observe “another culture”.
5. Teach your children that black people aren’t scary, by your words and actions.
The words you use around children are powerful; strike ghetto and thug from your language to describe places and people. Watch movies and shows with black leads or majority black actors. If possible, have your kids interact with kids who aren’t white, in situations where they are equals. Also refer back to my previous point #4.
A former black student of mine wrote an article titled, “The Reason I Can’t Have White Friends”. The title is sad and justified and the words are powerful. But, we white people need to read his words and then start educating our children and ourselves.
“I have grown tired of having to explain to people why mouthing off to police shouldn’t get me killed. I am tired of having to try twice as hard to smile on the train so people aren’t automatically afraid of me. I am tired of being afraid of police officers as they drive past my house or walk by me on the street. I am tired of being too afraid of police violence to go to the public pool, walk down the street, go to the movie theater walk with skittles or exist in my own skin. But I am unable to express this pain to people other than those of my own race. It is almost impossible to get other people to understand my pain. It is even harder to get people to acknowledge that the pain I and my people feel is even real. We live in a “post-racial” society but it seems that this “post-racial” attitude has tricked people into thinking that denying racism will completely destroy it.”
This piece on Huffington Post
This piece on Gapers Block
Tonight I just read an article in the Chicago Tribune in which the author “metaphorically” wishes a Hurricane Katrina would wipe out Chicago. I wish I were making this up, please read this piece. But after intense public pressure the Tribune did decide to “soften” their piece so here is the original piece as it was written. Even while I and many others were tweeting her about how offensive her piece is, she sent out the following tweet:
What Hurricane Katrina did was kill nearly 2,000 people and displace and relocate 1 million people on the Gulf Coast. In New Orleans the population of the city fell by half due to loss of homes and displacement. 50% of the city’s residents homes lost and forced to move.
Historical and proudly black communities were wiped out.
Now some people like this author will likely say, but New Orleans is back! Who is New Orleans back for? For people that look like me (i.e. white people). NOT the people who lived in those predominantly black precincts.
By the author wishing for a Katrina here in Chicago she is basically saying to get to rid of the black people and let the whites move in wherever they want. It would be like white flight in reverse, coming back from the ‘burbs to the city. We (white people) could proudly colonize, I mean move into Englewood and then joke on our porches while sipping tea about what life used to be like on the corner of 63rd and Racine, while we watch that new yoga studio go in. We would colonize Woodlawn, Roseland, and Austin too and the best part is we (white people) would get that land for cheap thanks to Katrina part II and Disaster Capitalism.
Arne Duncan (one of our fellow white brethren) said it best when he said, “Hurricane Katrina was the best thing for New Orleans Schools”.
I mean to actually fix the schools for the kids who live there, that is preposterous and besides that would be too much work. What is great is getting to have new (wealthier and/or whiter) kids move in, then rebuild the schools and boom schools are “great” now.
The author of this piece needs an education in white privilege. I suggest a starting point for her (and anyone who agrees with her) would be the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh which details and explains White Privilege and how it benefits all white people all the time. She then could read books by Lisa Delpit, Theresa Perry, Beverly Daniel-Tatum, Howard Zinn, bell hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates and many more authors. Even better she could actually listen and hear the messages of the Black Lives Matter movement or in that case any black person who would take the time to try to educate her.
The key as a white person is to listen to black people and not try to put our white privilege on what they are saying or for heaven’s sake say something like All Lives Matter.
Chicago Tribune author, here is the secret all lives do matter but our (white) lives aren’t being killed for all of America to see (just in case you needed to learn that too).
This country is going through a movement to bring to the forefront and hopefully make real changes to the way policing is done, so we can stop having black men and women murdered by the people who are supposed to be protecting them. There are many ways in which white people (like myself) can help. The first one is to listen to the real stories that people of color share about racism, the second is to call out racism when you see or hear it (like this Tribune article), and the third one (this is the hardest) is to educate our own (white) people. As a teacher in predominantly black schools in Chicago Public Schools I love teaching, learning and talking about race with my students, but talking about race with white people is hard. I’m no expert but I am willing to read, learn, and listen. I am working on always speaking up when I hear any type of racist comment. I am a work in progress, but I am taking the second and third piece of advice I gave by calling out this Katrina piece for what it is, racist and by attempting to teach (other white people) why it is racist.
I will end with a quote from scholar Beverly Daniel-Tatum with the key being white people must be “actively anti-racist”.
Her quote says, “I visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of our White supremacist system and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt – unless they are actively anti-racist – they will find themselves carried along with the others.”
This piece on Gapers Block
Let’s be honest, the word white often makes white people uncomfortable. Many of us who are white, when asked to describe ourselves do not say our race in our personal descriptions. A typical white person’s description of their self will likely include their gender, their ethnicity, and their looks. For example my description would sound something like this, “I am male, of Italian and German descent, 5’ 8” and bald.” Notice how race is not often mentioned.
The reason many white people don’t often think in terms of our own race is privilege. It is privilege that makes it so we don’t have to think about our race every single minute of every single day.
In 1989 a professor named Peggy McIntosh wrote a paper titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In this document she lists many privileges that white people have been taught to ignore and just accept as normal without even thinking twice about them.
Here are a few I selected from her list that are incredibly relevant for today:
- I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
- If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
- I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
- If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
- I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
Her list goes on. She wrote this piece 25 years ago and all of the items on her list still ring true today. In light of the events over the past few years in Ferguson with Mike Brown, Sanford with Trayvon Martin, Cleveland with Tamir Rice, Brevard Country Florida with Jordan Davis, Beaver Creek Ohio with John Crawford and New York City with Eric Garner I added a few more to the White Privilege list:
- I (as a white person) can wear a hood, buy skittles, and walk down the street in the evening without fear of harassment from police or “neighborhood watch”.
- I can listen to loud music in my car without being told to turn it down.
- But if for some reason I was to be told turn my music down I could be assured in knowing that no one would shoot at me because of it.
- My son could play with a toy gun in the park (even though I hate toy guns) and I know no one would call the cops on him.
- My son could play with a toy gun in the park and if a police officer saw him playing with a toy gun he would not shoot and kill my son in under two seconds.
- I could rest assured knowing that if ever my son was ever shot someone would attempt to perform CPR on him.
- I know I could walk into a Wal-Mart pick up a BB gun since they are sold there and walk around the store and not be shot.
- I can choose not to speak up when black people are being murdered by police and racist “Stand Your Ground” laws in this country and go about living my daily life, like America really is the land of equal opportunity.
It is this last privilege that I really want to focus on. We white people have the privilege to live in a bubble. We can choose to live in areas that are all or nearly all white.
We can share stories of that one time when we were in a “dangerous” (i.e. black area) of a city and how we made sure to lock the car doors and not get out of the car and then afterward joke about that “scary” situation back in the safety of our suburb, rural area, or safe (white) part of the city that we live in.
Beverly Tatum a scholar on race compares racism to breathing smog. “Sometimes it (racism) is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it (racism) in.”
Whether we accept it or not, racism is very much alive and going on at all times around us. By not choosing to actively resist and fight back against it we are actually promoting racism and prolonging its very existence.
Lisa Delpt another scholar on race wrote a letter to her daughter when she was eight years old titled “Dear Maya”. In the letter she says, “As much as I think of you as my gift to the world, I am constantly made aware that there are those who see you otherwise. Although you don’t realize it yet, it is solely because of your color that the police officers in our predominantly white neighborhood stop you to “talk” when you walk our dog. You think they’re being friendly, but when you tell me that one of their first questions is always, “Do you live around here?” I know that they question your right to be here, that somehow your being here threatens their sense of security.”
In much the same way I now will write a letter to all of the white people I know who are not or don’t know how to speak up about the legalized killing of black people in our country.
Dear White People,
Over the past two years very extreme and public examples have come out about police and regular citizens using certain laws to kill unarmed black people in the name of self-defense. Some of you have expressed outrage, some of you said nothing, while others of you advocated for the police and the laws that allowed these tragic events to happen.
Just because a something is legal does not make it just. Just because it is a law does not mean it should be allowed.
Most of us are not comfortable talking about race since it is not something we often need to talk about. We get defensive or afraid we might say the wrong thing. But we must start talking about race as uncomfortable as it might be. It cannot wait any longer.
We must start reading authors and educators who are helping to teach us about our own whiteness. We must sit down and read Lisa Delpit, Theresa Perry, and Beverly Daniel-Tatum as a start.
We must actually spend real time with people who don’t all look like and have the same experiences as us.
And once we actually sit down and talk and listen to someone who does not look like us we actually have to listen to and not dismiss their experiences.
I’m writing this as someone who grew up in a small town that was nearly all white outside of Ann Arbor Michigan. I’m writing as someone who chose to work at a YMCA in a predominantly black area of Toledo Oho while I was going to college. I’m writing as someone who chose to live on the South Side of Chicago in one of the few racially diverse neighborhoods of the city. I’m writing as someone who has spent the last eight years successfully teaching in schools that are nearly all African-American.
I’m writing this not to say I still don’t have a lot to learn about race, institutionalized racism, and my own whiteness, but I am writing to say that if we really want too we can start to truly understand how our skin color impacts our daily existence.
This letter could go on, but this is a start.
We must start and we must start now.
On Huffington Post Chicago
On Gapers Block