Thursday, April 2, 2009

Things that don't occur to you if you're white

In the wake of the Moats incident, my thoughts turn to my son, and how I haven't even begun to get a handle on what I need to do to prepare him to deal with the police. Recently, I read anemotionally heated blog conversation recently in which one black woman said, more or less, "please tell me that white adoptive parents know that their children need to have a plan for what to do if they get stopped by the police," and I thought, "oh, crap. a plan. I need a plan." I don't have one yet (more on that later), but I'm on it--and so glad that this woman whose name I don't even know mentioned it. It's one of those things in the category of Things That Don't Occur To You If You're White (TTDOTYIFYW), which are legion and which I desperately wish were all written down somewhere so I could just learn them all. Because it's hard to know what you don't know.

In his blog post on Moats, Field Negro featured some information that registered as a TTDOTYIFYW item for me, namely the basics of what to do when driving-while-black and pulled over by the police:
I know to keep my hands where they can be seen. I know to point to where my registration and insurance card is, and to tell the officer when I am reaching for it. And I know to dial my programmed home number in my cell phone (to get my home recording device) as the officer approaches my car, and keeping my cell phone on all times. I know to make sure I make a mental note of the officer's badge number and his name. And finally, I know to always show my pearly whites before my yes and no sirs.

Learning a new TTDOTYIFYW item always makes me feel like I've been living on the moon, and in some ways, in my white privileged state, I have. After I realize I've been living on the moon again, I either feel dumb, like how- could-I-have-missed-that-it's-so-darn-obvious dumb, or very, very sad, because I become aware of the experience that I haven't had. Reading Field's piece inspired sadness, because the strategy he describes comes from looking at himself as a police officer might look at him--as dangerous, untrustworthy, threatening, criminal. That, in some sense, he must imagine himself as he is seen, that he must take on these ugly characteristics if only in his mind, to formulate an effective strategy for survival. That's not something I have ever had to do. But my son will probably have to. And that is heartbreaking.

The other TTDOTYIFYW item I mentioned today--the need for a how-to-deal-with-police plan--makes me feel more dumb and ignorant than sad. But no self-pity here. It's time to buckle down and start filling in the gaps. I'll report back here on my progress.

1 comment:

  1. I've often said that the biggest privilege that I hold as a white person in a society that values my skin tone is *the ability to choose* whether I pay attention to the things that people of colour are forced to deal with every single day.

    I suppose I could make the choice to be passive, and just ignore everyday acts of racism that are so deeply ingrained that many people don't think twice about them. But I'd rather choose to actively fight against them. I feel like we all lose way too much when we allow injustice of any kind to remain unchallenged.