White Complacency, non-Black POC’s, and the societal racial caste system in the United States
I was taught to fear interactions with police. Maybe it was because at one point my family immigrated to the US or maybe it was because that’s what the community that I lived in did. I remember being fearful. But the time I spent living on my own as an undergraduate, I admit I was complacent. I was benefiting from my White-adjacentness. A privilege that I didn’t know was being granted to me. As a white-passing or light-skinned Latina in certain rooms, I’m permitted access. I am tolerated because people see my light-skin as “safe”. Maybe at one point in my life I was.
But I carry with me so many life experiences that do not make “safe” to white people anymore. I found my voice, and I cannot stand by and blindly allow the dehumanization of Black people. I do challenge and I am actively anti-racist. There is no sliding scale when it comes to White Supremacy and racism, you either are actively fighting it or you are benefitting from it.
My ex-husband is a tall Black man. I am a short light-skinned Latina. This is relevant. When we lived in California, I honestly lost count of how many times we were pulled over by police and they were surprised to see a passenger in the car or two after our son was born. I remember one incident, “Oh.” a verbal cue of surprise, after the officer saw me in the passenger seat. Flashlights being shined in all of our eyes, and me hoping my sleeping baby didn’t wake up and start crying. There was always a way that my ex adjusted his posture when we were about to be pulled over. I learned to follow suit, and I always turned off the music before it happened. He would look in the rear view, sit up while saying “shit” and he didn’t have to say anything else. I knew, I felt it. The fear. Anything could happen.
I write this because there was a turning point for the complacency that I once had in my young adult life. I had just found out I was pregnant and we were looking for a parking spot near the beach in Venice. There was one police car next to us, and then it was behind us for blocks. We were followed. Then there were several more cars following, surrounding, and we reached an intersection (I don’t remember what it was), and a helicopter was above us. They asked my ex to throw the keys out, and then we both had to put our hands through the windows on the outside of the doors. He had to get out first. Opening the door from the outside, and standing with his arms up in the air and was instructed to walk backwards towards the police, slowly. I couldn’t tell you how many squad cars, I couldn’t tell you how many guns were pointed at us. Once he made it to the police car, he was tackled and a police officer pinned him down with his knee on his neck. A gun pointed at his head while another officer hand-cuffed him.
I have never been so terrified. Not for me, but for my unborn child. Would he grow up without his father? Were they going to shoot him in the head? If I moved wrong, would they shoot me too? After he was hand-cuffed, it was my turn. Opening the door from the outside, I remember saying loudly in fear but not aggressively that “I’m pregnant”, I began walking backwards with my hands up in the air. I remember hoping I didn’t fall, thinking about if this stress could affect my baby or even if I’d miscarry. Once I got to the squad cars, I was only bent over the car and hand-cuffed. The officer was writing down my name, and information. She didn’t bother asking my race, she checked “White”. I remember saying, “I’m not White.”
I was clearly treated differently, and it didn’t stop with the arrest, they released me without running a background check on me. And they kept my ex overnight for parking tickets. I had to bail him out the next day.
A person who defends White Supremacy and Racism would ask, what did he do to have that happen? Let me tell you the reason doesn’t justify the treatment or the use of force, and it NEVER does for ANY BLACK PERSON IN AMERICA.
But that was the turning point for me, it was when I realized my own complacency and privilege in society. It was when I realized for no damn reason other than the color of my unborn child’s skin that in this country my child could go through that or worse. Five months after my son was born, Trayvon Martin was murdered. And I knew I had to do everything I could to effect change and speak up about the injustices in this country that Black people face everyday.
I am afforded to be at certain tables and certain spaces and my place isn’t always questioned. But I will tell you that I will push back and challenge folks who say or dismiss things in my presence. There was a day at work after we moved to Grand Rapids, and the news was on the tv’s around the office. The top story was the murder of Eric Garner. A co-worker said in an insensitive way, “I don’t understand why people are so upset. It’s not like it happens everyday.” I held my breath for a moment and then I spewed a history of violence from police directed at Black people. I was surprised that this 20-something White man never heard of Rodney King. He was comfortable with his denial… and I will never be surprised that a White person could be so complacent again. I thought about the way I was treated compared to my ex.
I remember being so upset, noticeably gone from the office that day were my Black colleagues. I knew it was a mental health day for them, they could not sit in an office with the images of violence against Black people on the monitors… surrounded by White people, most of whom were oblivious, uncaring, complacent, contempt, and in denial about their silent support of White Supremacy and the racial caste system that our society upholds. However, I am a non-Black POC… and I am removed enough that I can sit in the space and be the person to speak up. Because this burden is too great for only Black people to bear.
I leave you with a quote from Lilla Watson, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”