It’s hard for white folks to talk about racism. We think we are so beyond that R-word. We may have friends or associates of color. We may have voted for an African-American. We haven’t a racist bone in our bodies – we haven’t ever used the N-word.
This column will attempt to stay away from R-word play on the national stage. This column will attempt to stay local. It will attempt to look inward.
St. Louis has a five-year anniversary this week. On Aug. 9, 2014, a young black man was killed by a white Ferguson police officer. Weeks and months of conflicting stories and active demonstrations followed. The police officer was not charged.
One has to wonder that if the officer had been able to confront with respect rather than challenge, would the outcome have been different? If the subject were white instead of black, would the officer’s tone have been different? Would Michael Brown’s body have remained in the street for four hours had he been white?
Last week I began reading “The Underground Railroad,” by Colson Whitehead. And I wonder, do psychic echoes of long ago master and slave violence sometimes reverberate when a white officer confronts a black man?
This conjecture touches a hot button for a lot of people. Michael Brown apparently shoved a clerk and took some cigars at a convenience store before he was confronted by the officer who killed him. Accounts indicate he charged the officer. He was no saint. But had he not also been black, would the outcome have been different?
A story: the year was 1970. I was 19 and working in Oklahoma. A friend and I hitchhiked to Oklahoma City one Sunday afternoon to see the movie, “Woodstock.”
After the movie, we got onto the wrong highway, then tried to take a shortcut to connect to the Will Rogers Turnpike. The shortcut became a long walk very late at night. Oklahoma City included a lot of annexed rural area.
Our paved “short-cut” road became a gravel road. It was 2 or 3 a.m. when an Oklahoma City Police car pulled up. The officer asked his questions and believed our story. He gave us a ride in the back of the patrol car to where we could get onto the turnpike, despite the fact it was posted “No Hitchhiking.”
Had we been young men of color would our story have been different?
Cops have difficult jobs. And my encounters have been mostly positive
I have become aware only in recent years of the level of privilege I carry with me as a white person. I have become just a little bit aware of the extra level of scrutiny I unconsciously place on interactions with people of color. I am just a little more aware of the pass I get for being white in situations where I might otherwise draw suspicious looks.
I’d like to think I don’t have a racist bone in my body. But blind spots? I have my share.