Sunday, July 26, 2009

Weighing In

We were reading the Washington Post in the Plymouth Church parking lot in DC when we came across the first article about Professor Gates arrest by the Cambridge police department. I hooted -- and read the article aloud to Hubby while we waited to meet with Hubby's sister and attend church with her. We both agreed that the Cambridge police has stepped "in it" big time -- and frankly we were delighted that a prominent and respected figure like Gates would now be the spokesperson for a disgrace that every African American, especially male, has suffered throughout his lifetime.

Do we side in any way with the police? NO. A resounding NO! Racial profiling exists, folks. If you are Black you live with it daily. If you are white, you probably don't understand because if you are polite and responsive when the police stop you -- for legitimate reasons -- you are treated in return in a polite, responsive way. If you are a Black male you can expect to be under suspicion, stopped, questioned, and even arrested -- just because you ARE Black. The police, once they make the stop, have in the main, learned to be polite in the stopping and questioning -- but THEY STOP you simply because YOU ARE BLACK. This is frustrating, humiliating, and degrading. And if you, the Black male, aren't properly respectful and polite, then, like Gates, you are arrested for "disturbing the peace."

In my white life (36 years now) living with a Black man I have been stopped numerous times in both Kansas and Missouri -- not because we were breaking the law but because we were driving through a white world. When our own house was robbed -- and everything that wasn't nailed down was taken -- my husband spent 40 minutes in front of the house proving his identity -- while the crooks one block over loaded a semi and drove away with all our possessions. Especially in the white suburbs of Kansas, we have had to prove we owned the car we were driving. I have had to assure the cop that I wasn't driving around with a Black man under duress. At night we have been stopped and asked exactly where we "thought" we were going and had to verify that we were visiting friends -- at their invitation.

Driving across country I can drive ten to fifteen miles over the speed limit, directly by a cop and never be stopped. Hubby can go three miles over the speed limit and he's immediately pulled over. In Arkansas, we were stopped and the car searched by the police because we were in our brand new Toyota.

When I was senior class sponsor I used to let the class treasurer drive to the bank and deposit our funds during the noon break. He would take my old beat-up Toyota, definitely not a car anyone would steal, and drive five blocks away to make the deposit. He was stopped so often in that car that I used to have a signed note with both Hubby's and my phone number on it so the cops could verify he was driving with my permission.

Hubby has always handled the repeated cop invasions into our life with quiet dignity and respect toward the law. He never says evil things. He doesn't spout off. He just accepts the numerous intrusions with patience and forbearance. He understands that to react in any way means jail time. Me? I'm furious. I've been known to ask the police, "Did you stop us simply because I'm a white woman riding with a Black man?" It makes me seethe with anger every time we're stopped and questioned.

I totally understand Gates reaction to his being questioned -- in front of his own house -- and his anger when confronted with the reality that fame, education, money, respect -- nothing keeps him from being lumped into the whole African-American "fear" mentality of this country.

Gates had a right to be mad -- and with his anger we are finally having a dialogue that has been hundreds of years in the making. I've enjoyed Gates' PBS shows on ethnicity -- now he's my new hero. The white people of this country can say he should have been more respectful towards the police. They've never experienced the degradation that comes from facing racial profiling. After years of fighting it -- you GET mad! And this is righteous anger!


Bev Sykes said...

This is a valuable perspective. I posted it to my Facebook account in the hope that others will read it. Thank you for sharing.

Margaret said...

I can't say this loudly enough: AMEN!! You've said it perfectly and have the actual experiences to back it up. I am hot-tempered(at times) so I can only try to imagine how angry and humiliated I would feel in this circumstances. But the reality is that I will NEVER have to deal with it.Thank you so much for saying this!!

(M)ary said...

it is so hard to get white people to understand because they haven't seen it happen.

(M)ary said...

ps i mean, seen it happen in their personal lives. we have certainly seen stories in the media