Along with countless others, I’ve waded through this past week with a heavy heart. As the protests rose up across the country to speak out against long-standing racism and police brutality, I have been tuning in, listening, learning. I realize that the ability to learn about racism versus experience it, is not an option for everyone. That fact doesn’t go unseen.
As open-minded as I believe I am, I know that I have plenty to learn and unlearn. When you’ve grown up in a flawed system, as all Americans have, nobody is off the hook. The momentum is long overdue, but white Americans like me have an urgent duty to reflect on our own personal histories and to help reform the system we have benefited from our whole lives.
My instinct is always to start at home. I’m trying to set an example for my kids…by stumbling through conversations where I don’t have easy answers. By finding new resources. By making calls and donations. By showing up. By sharing and discussing stories we read online.
But sometimes the story comes directly to you.
A few days ago I was driving with the kids down a small-town road in central Texas. We were an hour from the heart of Austin, where protests and police escalations were making headlines.
The music was loud and we were all talking over each other as usual. Cruising along. I saw a police car parked ahead and as soon as I passed, he made a quick U-turn and turned on his flashing lights.
My first thought: Shit.
Second thought: Oh well, life lesson for my 17-year-old driver, 15-year-old driver-in-training, and always-observant 11-year-old. Kids, this is what happens when you get a ticket.
I pulled my car over, rolled down my window, and waited while the officer walked up. He arrived at my door smiling. He called me ma’am. He told me I was going 50 in a 35. “Did you realize that?” No, I did not.
Before taking my license back to his patrol car, the officer told me he was just giving me a verbal warning. He didn’t check my insurance card or comment on my inspection sticker, which was overdue by 4 days. When he returned, he smiled again. “Y’all have a nice day out there. Enjoy your visit.”
Before I even pulled back on the road, I had a third thought: Thank you officer, you just handed me a perfect topic to discuss on the way home. Kids, this is what white privilege looks like. Do I think this police officer would have reacted differently if I were black? If my kids were black? Statistics tell us more than likely YES.
But even setting aside that hypothetical scenario, I can tell you this for certain:
Not for a single moment—from the second the police lights flashed, or the instant he appeared in my side mirror, or the minute he stood by my car—did I worry about my safety or my kids’ safety. Can black families say the same thing? Statistics and personal stories and the daily news feed tell us absolutely NO.
A recent video went viral that showed a black teenager listing off all the rules his mom gave him before leaving the house. I’ve been told black children, but especially black sons, are given The Talk by the time they are 11. Essentially, how to be out in the world safely. Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Don’t put your hoodie on. Don’t be outside without a shirt on. Don’t touch anything you’re not buying. Never leave the store without a receipt or a bag, even if it’s just a pack of gum. Don’t ride with the music too loud…the list goes on.
You know what I tell my kids when they leave the house and I’m thinking about their health and safety? Wear a helmet. Put on sunscreen. Hydrate. That’s pretty much it.
We should all be so lucky to live with a list this short. Seriously, ALL. We should all be able to breathe.
If you can breathe as easy as I can, I encourage you to check out these resources for anti-racist learning and unlearning. I have work to do, too. I hope you will join me.