August 21, 2014

Living in Another's Skin

I have only ever once been accused of shoplifting, at a Pathmark in Yonkers, when the "security" attendant saw me put something in my pocket and failed to recognize it as a shopping list. (What of value in a supermarket he imagined I could put in my pocket, I can not tell, but suffice it to say the incident was embarrassing, angering, and put me off shopping at that store ever again.)

However, I also realize that what was a one-off unpleasantness for me is, for anyone born brown or black in this America, a daily possibility or worse, probability. I recall years ago hearing in shock from one of my African-American brothers in Christ of his experience being challenged as he opened the trunk of his own car as we gathered for an evening meeting in White Plains NY. That simply would never happen to me, in my own skin, which makes me both grateful and furious.

For I do not deserve this favor, nor did he deserve the hassle, nor does anyone deserve to be shot unarmed in the street, strangled on the sidewalk, or pummeled on the highway. The chances of my being challenged as I enter my own home or car are vanishingly small. The possibility I will be shot in the street, unarmed, is almost nonexistent. As a white male I have almost no basis for sympathy with my African-American brothers and sisters on the basis of my own experience, other than my being human, and being at the end of it all saddened and shocked and angry that I live in a racist nation.

There, I've said it. I live in a racist nation. Having a black president only goes so far; and I dare say if Barack Obama were wearing a jogging suit on a poorly lit street, not surrounded by Secret Service agents, he might well be challenged if he tried to open the trunk of a car one evening in the aptly named White Plains.

I just want to say, Stop it. Stop it, now. Train the police to use less lethal methods, and prosecute to the fullest extent those who don't. Put to rest the constant need to suspect on the basis of a profile all too aptly suited to fit the native prejudices. End the madness of the war on drugs that has nourished the vast bulk of this problem in the first place, like its pale ghost uncle Prohibition. End it all. Just stop!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

7 comments:

June Butler said...

Thank you, Tobias. Yours are powerful and necessary words The racism in our country drives me nearly to despair. I grew up in a racist environment. Racism was all I knew, and I had to unlearn it beginning in my late teens, with credit to the Jesuits at Loyola University in New Orleans for beginning the process. Ironically, at the time the college was still all white except for a few African-American nuns who attended summer sessions. When will we ever learn?

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you, Mimi. Your words give some comfort. But let's stay angry together and continue to work for change...

Andrew Gerns said...

When I was in high school I was being driven back from an event at my parish church when we were pulled over. The adult driving and all the teenagers in the car except me were black. The officer was just getting ready to get us all out of the car when he saw me. He the gave the license back to the driver, told us to move on and just walked away. I have never forgotten that lesson... especially the feeling of embarrassment and silent rage that hung in the air for the rest of the ride.

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you, Andrew, for this testimony.

susan s. said...

Thanks, Tobias.

Tobias Haller said...

Most welcome, Susan. Sorry to have to say what I said, but I needed to...

JCF said...

The very *first* day that my (African-American) ex and I were in Michigan, we were pulled over. He "fit a description".

As a white person by myself, this has never happened to me. If it ever does happen to Caucasians, I bet it would be the exception to the rule.

Anyone for whom "all ____ people look alike" really ought to be disqualified from being a police officer, IMO.