If you have not taken a gander at Freshly Pressed lately you should. The following post gave me a nasty jolt, Some Real Shock and awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit. I felt a terrible sadness and anger for the author, Shoshana, as she will be dealing with the internal fallout for a long time to come. It brought to mind an equally disturbing movie called The Siege.
Governments have historically demonstrated that abuse of power based on personal, misguided beliefs is an absolute certainty. It is for this reason that we must be very careful of what they deem necessary to ensure our safety at the expense of what is at best, very tenuous liberties. As Black comedians love to say, “Arabs are the new niggas…” In the eyes of the frightened and bigoted – they are right.
After my boil settled down to a simmer, I realized that I empathized with her as well. Whilst reading, I felt removed because she was referring to an event tied to a specific type of racial profiling. In the quiet, I realized that she could just as easily have been talking about the experience of many minorities, or African Americans and the boil returned.
I am originally from New York and I can’t tell you how proud I am of that. If you come up in New York you are fast talking, fast walking, cocky and engineered with a certain toughness. You’ve seen it all and been around all kinds of people and not much affects you. You are also somewhat impervious to dirt, crowds, ghetto blasters, everything big as life and a bewildering array of flashing lights lol. I wear that like my armor wherever I go and it’s helped me more than once.
I lived in New York until I was 32 and when I first let it be known that I was crossing the river to Jersey a loud hue and cry arose – from my black friends. They said I was crazy. They said I should be careful. They wanted to know if I knew that the cops in Jersey were notorious for profiling. My response? Same stuff goes down in New York. Just the thought enraged me as I was keenly conscious of the opportunities that I have which my ancestors, two generations removed, did not. Nobody will ever determine where I live. I determine what is possible for me.
It wasn’t long before I discovered that they were right. I was hyper conscious when driving when I first moved here and ridiculously uptight when passing a cop. And no, I wasn’t doing anything wrong but I know instinctively and experientially that I can’t trust most cops. Two threatened to rape me at 16. Better to avoid those with potential power over you when you don’t know what prejudices they carry. The feeling went away eventually but it was a long time in the coming. Now, I am not so much as cautious as vigilant.
I have had my run in with NJ cops for supposed traffic, code violations, or any little thing they can trump up. Hell, my company truck was stopped the other day because deodorizer was hanging on the dashboard mirror and supposedly that’s now against the law. They’ve gotten stopped and harassed any number of times, because two black guys in a big white truck is evidently a beacon. My attitude? They can go F themselves. I pay taxes, I am a business owner and I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of even the suggestion of fear. Instead, I dazzle them with my wit, pay the fine and keep it moving. Fairness is a moot point.
I have come to understand that I am considered an anomaly which is why my razzle dazzle usually works lol. What do I mean by anomaly? Why, an educated, articulate, African-American, of course. I am not what they expect, thanks to inherited prejudices, general small mindedness, or the glorification of negative images and stereotypes so beloved by the media. Perhaps here I should opine that there are ignorant people of every race but only certain types are paraded before us.
There are goodies out there who will doubt my veracity, think that I am exaggerating for effect, or subtly hinting at a history that should have the decency to stay dead but they don’t live in my skin. They don’t see the relaxing of facial muscles and relief when I speak, or cajole my way out of the mental construction that a mental midget in a blue suit, behind a government desk, or even in a courtroom longs to put me in. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
In my skin, I have endured hostile stares in expensive restaurants; been stopped and scrutinized by airport personnel in London, Malaysia and more; been left curbside by taxi cab drivers; had security people follow me, or routinely ignore me. I have viewed with horror, then pity and amusement, the contingent of old, frightened, white ladies who lock eyes with me in some kind of compulsory horror – always in a public place. Then, their gaze will slide away to an invisible dot somewhere. Of course, we can add to that fruitless job interviews where the interviewers love me in print and admire my speech until they actually see me. As a corporate slave of two decades and a female technologist to boot, you can only imagine what I experienced there.
All my life, I have had to endure remarks about how articulate and intelligent I am as if it is an anomaly. I know that some people mean it nicely but I am speaking of those with a completely, different motivation.
With all this emphasis on my skin, I grew up hating it. Even surrounded by open minded people, exposed to various cultures and dating other races, I still hated it until my mid-twenties. Thank God, I finally got a clue that I had been informed by hatred and it festered within.
Every African-American woman knows that her brother, father, son, boyfriend or husband could be stopped for the slightest infraction, or suspicion and carted off. It’s just a very sad and sobering fact of our reality – everyday.
Of course, African-Americans do not own Racial Profiling or racism. I speak of my experience and hope that it encourages people to think about the politics of hate and actions driven by fear.