America is in crisis right now, and it IS a matter of black and white.
This morning, a friend of mine, who happens to be African-American, was telling a group of us about two experiences he'd just had. The first, he explained, was arriving at his workplace to find the door locked with one of the locks they never use. He didn't have a key for that particular lock, so called his boss (a white woman) for advice. She told him that it had happened before, and that if he just used a credit card, he could jimmy the lock. His second story involved a co-worker offering her debit card and asking him to go get her a cup of coffee.
This week alone we've heard stories of white people calling the police on people of color who had fallen asleep in a dorm common room while studying, another called the police on a family barbecuing (legally) in a public park, and a third on some friends checking out of an AirBNB. "Sleeping While Black." "Barbecuing While Black." "Walking While Black." "Sitting in Starbucks While Black." The list of occasions where white people used their power and privilege to intimidate people of color by calling the police on perfectly legal activities is either growing, becoming more well known due to social media and a heightened awareness, or probably both.
It's terrifying. If my friend had been seen trying to jimmy the lock on his office door, or had used someone else's debit card to make a purchase at a coffee shop, he's running the risk of having some white person call the cops. And in the last few years, we've also become brutally aware of the number of people of color who, in the course of pursuing normal, law-abiding activities, are murdered by police.
We are living in ridiculously dangerous times for people of color.
The African-American Lesbian Poet Pat Parker, writing in her poem "For the White Person Who Wants to Know How To Be My Friend," said:
“The first thing you do is to forget that I’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that I’m Black.”
(For years, until researching the source for this blog, in fact, I thought that was Malcolm X's line, and I hereby apologize for unwittingly erasing a black woman's voice.)
What I take from these lines is simple: please don't treat me differently because of the color of my skin, but never presume that our experiences in this world are the same.
As white people, and as friends, we are currently living in a time where we MUST think about what we ask of our friends of color. No harm was meant by asking my friend to jimmy a door, or use a debit card, but those requests came with a willful ignorance of the potential for a violent outcome.
As our friends of color are living in a heightened vigilance for their safety and their lives, so to do we need to make sure that we are not causing more harm. Our words and actions can trigger. We may unconsciously be engaging in microaggression after microaggression, and causing emotional and psychic trauma.
While the world fights back against this newly revealed/reawakened public racism (which was always there, but we white folks had the privilege to ignore), pause for a moment and think how our words, actions and requests -- innocent as we may think they are -- impact our friends.
Thoughts, observations and comments from Witti Repartee, hostess, fundraiser, bon vivant and...well, lots else.