Ruminating On: Scared White People and #blacklivesmatter

EDIT: I had a huge typo in the last paragraph. The line should read “Silence is a reaction, and it’s NOT the right one.” Sorry about that. Please don’t remain silent. Just a typo. Thanks.

There are people, white and black and otherwise, who will read this blog post and automatically dismiss it. Some might even say it’s not my place. I cannot do anything about them. All I can do is tell my story, and maybe someone will understand. Nowhere in here do I mean to shirk my privilege or put myself outside the broad stroke of “white people”. When I say “white people”, I am including myself in that statement. I don’t dig labels. Never have. But the rest of the world does. So, yes, I am White People. But I have a little more, just a tad more, experience dealing with systemic racism, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Because the biggest problems with white people are fear and disbelief. “There is no problem,” they say. “It’s blown out of proportion by the media, by race-baiters.” Nope. You’re wrong.  I’ve seen systemic racism firsthand. And, while there is a problem with today’s media, scared white men shooting black men is a problem that needs to be addressed.

 

I moved to Troy, Alabama, in 1996. I started working for the Burger King on Highway 231. That’s where I met the man whom I would, almost twenty years later, name my son after. My buddy’s name is Christopher McCord. He’s a black man. That didn’t matter to me then. It doesn’t matter to me now. But, in this story, his race does matter.

 

Though we came from much different backgrounds—he from Birmingham, Alabama, and I from southern California—we shared a love for music. All kinds of music, man. Metal, classic rock, R&B, hip hop, even a country song or two. We’d roll through Troy in his Dodge Daytona, a car by the name of Rudy, blasting everything from Bone Thugs & Harmony to Matchbox 20. And I mean blasting. Chris had a killer sound system. Not one of those bullshit rattleboxes. He dressed Rudy to the nines. Only the best. We spent a lot of time inside that car and on my back porch. Chris was there for me during some rough times, and he remains the only friend I have who remembers the waste of life that was my father. Chris soon became my brother in every sense of the term other than blood. I would do anything for the guy.

 

One night in 1997—this was late, probably almost midnight, if not after—Chris pulled into the old Walmart parking lot on 231. He killed Rudy’s Engine and we sat listening to a Bone Thugs album. Chris was laughing at me trying to skip over singing the N-word and still keep up with the rapid-fire lyrics. We were having a good time. We were not hurting anyone. There were no posted signs. Nothing to tell us the parking lot was off limits, because it wasn’t. There were two semi trucks parked off on the other side of the lot with their running lights going. Truckers trying to catch some sleep.

 

I’m not sure how long we were there, but soon enough the cop cars showed up. I know you know it’s coming, so we’ll jump right into it. Three cop cars, four cops, all for a Dodge Daytona sitting in the middle of an open, all-but-empty parking lot. We were, of course, either having sex or doing drugs. I’m sure these officers thought that anyway. Hell, maybe we were having sex AND doing drugs! I jest, but my point is, I know why they stopped. It’s how they reacted to Chris and then me that changed the way I saw things.

 

Chris got out, revealed himself to be black, and the cops lost their shit.

 

“Put your hands up! Don’t move!”

 

First, which is it? Which one was he supposed to follow? “Put your hands up!” or “Don’t move!”? Given those commands, which one would you do?

 

Next thing I heard was one of the cops tell Chris, “Lemme see your ID.”

 

The cops, all four white, didn’t know the race of the other person in the car. Namely, me. The cruisers were parked behind us and Rudy’s back window was tinted. And, as I’ve said, it was dark. They could obviously see me moving around inside, but there was no way they could’ve seen I was white. Thinking we were in some serious trouble, I got out of the car to try and help explain why we were here and what we were doing.

 

I popped the door open and I might as well have drawn a gun. Shouts and barks for me to stay in the car or stay where I was exploded all around me. But I was already pulling myself out. Besides, these were cops. They weren’t going to shoot me for no reason. That doesn’t happen. Right?

 

Well, they didn’t shoot. But I’ll never forget the change in those officers’ demeanors when they saw who, or more importantly what, I was.

 

Three of the four officers visibly deflated when they saw me. They couldn’t see my hands, only my face over the top of the car. They relaxed completely. Even took on jovial joking tones. The questions were then directed at me, the passenger.

 

“Why’re you guys out here?”

 

I told them and they relaxed even more.

 

Not one of them asked me for my ID. I’m four years younger than Chris. I was 17 at the time this happened. But not one of them asked me for my ID. But I’ve always looked young. At my best, I could’ve passed for fifteen. Now, you can say that they didn’t ask for my ID because I wasn’t behind the wheel, but that doesn’t change what I saw.

 

I saw three men who were scared to death of Chris and were not the least intimidated by me. I saw three men on the verge of violence solely because of the personal appearance and not the actions of the person they were faced with. Chris didn’t make any sudden moves. He didn’t pose any threat. He sure didn’t argue with them. But they were still terrified of him. Of him. Not me.

 

Before that night, you might have made me believe that the recent rise in black men being shot and killed by police was something trumped up by media outlets. But the truth is, my fellow white people, is that the media didn’t used to focus on this. It’s always happened: scared white men, who’re scared for no other reason than they’ve been taught that black men are vicious animals, putting down what they perceive to be vicious animals. And when it did hit the news, white people would say, “They must’ve done something to deserve it.” Even now, just a few days ago, a black man with a conceal and carry permit was shot to death after following instructions. Those instructions being, “Show me your permit.” Philando Castile, a man who was just following orders, was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and her daughter while reaching for the permit the officer asked for. Why? Because of a scared white man.

 

I firmly believe that the only reason that Chris went home unscathed that night was because I was there. Hell, two days later, when I went back to work, all of Chris’s friends came up to me and thanked me for being there. All I did was be white at the right time, and here I was, a hero. That’s crazy. If I hadn’t been there, I would not have believed it. Had you seen the way those officers’ faces changed when they saw that Chris the Scary Black Man had Edward the Safe White Person with them, you might understand instead of fearing and disbelieving. But seeing is believing. You just have to open your eyes.

 

All I can ask is that you do not dismiss this. White people do not talk about our roles in systemic racism enough. The way we act and react when faced with these tragedies speaks volumes. Silence is a reaction, and it’s not the right one. I don’t know how to fix this, but I’ll continue to educate myself.

 

Take care of each other,

 

E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Original post:
edwardlorn.booklikes.com/post/1432971/ruminating-on-scared-white-people-and-blacklivesmatter

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14 thoughts on “Ruminating On: Scared White People and #blacklivesmatter

    1. We need to talk more about this. It’s the only fix I can see. If we educate and share stories, maybe we can lessen the fear? I don’t know, man. I’m trying.

      1. It’s so complex. My sense of it is (as a white man who isn’t even an American, lol) that the legacy of racism still permeates much of the country. I don’t mean that as anti-Americanism, but as a dispassionate observation of an admittedly passionate state of affairs (and we Canadians are far from free of our racist past either). Anyway, law enforcement is particularly suffused with said racism, not on an individual level (although it might be) but on an institutional level. Now add to that the militarization of the police. Then throw in a sense of self-importance, the prioritization of officer safety over the safety of the public, which leads inexorably to those scared cops you describe, and here we are.

  1. You know, one thing I find increasingly troubling is that while I’m aware that many white people are scared, that fear is largely bullshit we put up to deal with the guilt of what this country has done. After all, if we actually had to culturally account for ourselves, we would be in some serious shit.
    I grew up in San Diego. I’m about as pasty as it gets, being Welsh/Irish/Canadian/Texan (I say that one because one side of the family has never forgotten that they came from Texas when it was its own country, damnit,) but our neighbors were Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican, Guatemalan. One of the women who raised me was from Mexico and her husband was Israeli. My first best friends were Filipino and Indian (er, well, he might have been Pakistani– I was five and didn’t know the difference back then.) We celebrated every holiday we could, exchanged food, and had three full days of awesomeness from Oct 31- Nov 2nd. I remember my family seeing the riots in L.A. not with fear, but with mourning. Sure, I was a kid, but it never occurred to me that any of these people were different from us in any way.
    I never heard the N-word until we moved to the Midwest when I was ten, nor any number of derogatory insults. It baffled the living shit out of me that we were expected not to associate with anyone of color, not that there were any. Now, it is absolutely true that racism and hate existed around me when I was in California, but my point is that I didn’t recognize it. My parents and grandparents intentionally conditioned me to believe there was no damn difference between anyone. The fact that I was now in a place where people had been intentionally conditioned to believe otherwise was a whole new level of culture shock. The big lesson to me was that none of this was accidental. Hate is intentional, and so is peace.
    I’m really glad you wrote this, man. For every shitty thing I encounter about the last few days (hell, about the last few decades,) reading just one person writing sane things makes me feel like we haven’t dropped past that event horizon. I have no idea how we get out of this, I’m just hoping that the sane voices keep talking.

    1. We keep talking, and talking and talking and talking… Sooner or later, we’ll have to listen to each other.

      Thanks for sharing your story, Evan. I was raised much the same way.

  2. Philando Castile’s death hit me pretty hard. Well, all this senseless death hits me hard, but where he died is right in the neighborhood of where we’ve been traveling a couple times a month for my dog’s cancer treatment.

    We were headed there about a month back when we were pulled over for my husband going over the speed limit in a construction zone. No workers were there, but we were busy talking and just failed to alter our speed.

    “Sir, do you know how fast you were going?”

    “65?”

    “A few miles below that. Thank you for being honest, though. I’m going to give you a warning. Can I see your license and registration?”

    “Thank you, officer! Sure!”

    The police officer goes to his vehicle for a moment, and my husband and I quickly exchange relieved glances and words. Thank God, just a warning. I said I had been planning on telling him about our sick dog, hoping he was a pet lover. But that wasn’t necessary.

    The officer returns, only to my side, because traffic is a little heavy. Hands me the license, the registration, and the warning.

    “Okay, you folks are free to go, but it could have been a $300 ticket.”

    “Wow,” I say, speaking for the first time.

    “We need folks to take it seriously.”

    “We will, we do!” I say. My husband murmurs agreement.

    “Have a great day!”

    “You too, officer!”

    At that point we were still a good distance from where Castile died, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t shake the thought that our worst reasonable fear was a ticket, and there was never a moment when the officer wasn’t polite and friendly.

    I just am so very sad that another good person died for the crime of driving/existing while black, and the body wasn’t even cold before people started coming up with reasons for why the cop was justified. How is that always the default for so many people?

    I respect and appreciate the police. My niece is a police officer. I am also devastated by the shootings in Dallas. But how many people must die, how many statistics must we read, before we as a society accept that there’s an undeniable pattern?

  3. dwdavis1210

    Sadly, racism is tribal and predates human civilization. We are afraid of them because they are different from us, are not part of our tribe, do not behave like we do, do not believe like we do. Civilization tries to overcome such negative attitudes toward others, but the veneer of civilization is a very thin one and easily pierced.

    I teach in a school with a majority minority population of students, most of whom live at or near the poverty level and are being raised by a single parent or a relative rather than a parent. When I interact with them I do my best to empathize with their situation, fully aware of the fact I will never be able to do so completely.

    Many people talk about the problem, the chasm between the races, who live isolated in one world or the other and think they know what it’s like. I have lived a long time on the boundary between the two, from the early days of desegregation and forced busing until today’s focus on White Cops versus Black Men. What I have learned is that communication, education, and cooperation are the only way we can overcome what is ailing our country. It will take a generation or more, and a different kind of national leadership than what we have now. Sadly, I don’t see either of the current probably replacements for President as being able to bridge the racial divide.

  4. I thank you with all of my heart for sharing this post, man. It’s very sad, but beautiful at the same time. The love that Christopher and yourself have for each other is something of a rarity these days, and that needs to change. Racism is scary and ugly and downright evil. It’s a complex issue (one I’m at a lose to understand,) but we need to take the time to understand it. I think that’s the only way for change to happen. I’m not saying that educating one’s self is a fix-all, but it would certainly go a long way.

    Stop the violence, stop the hatred, stop the killing. All fears are the lies the world tells us. Disbelieve the lies. Tell your story, and learn from each other.

    This is beautiful, Ed!

      1. I am glad that you read 1984, which is one of my favorite books. I think everyone should read it. Have you read Animal Farm? I see a lot of similarities in both books to our present world, and that’s scary in itself.

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