Still breathing

I feel like my last post needs some kind of follow-up.  I have a back-log of “regular” posts (at least in my head), but jumping right into, “and here was my experience making soy milk,” doesn’t quite seem right.  So, here we go . . . .

Claiming that one “doesn’t see color” is a cop-out.  First, unless you actually have some type of visual impairment, it’s total B.S.  Claiming that I walk down the street and don’t notice the color of a person’s skin would be like claiming that I don’t notice whether that person is male or female.  Our brains automatically take in and process this information.  Noticing skin color is not good or bad.  It just is.  It’s what we do with this information that is important.

Second, claiming to be color/race blind actually undermines progress in addressing racial disparities.  This article in Psychology Today breaks it down well:

Colorblindness creates a society that denies [minorities’] negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives . . . . And if you can’t talk about it, you can’t understand it, much less fix the racial problems that plague our society.

Claiming to be “colorblind” insulates us from wrestling with difficult topics like white privilege; disparate police practices, like racial profiling and unequal use of force; and a broken justice system.

White Privilege
Back in September, I requested a copy of Shelly Tochluk’s Witnessing Whiteness.  I was not able to be part of the YWCA-led group that was reading the book.  I started reading the book, but I just couldn’t get through it.  Not because I disagreed with Tochluk or struggled with the concepts, but more due to the writing style.  I think having a group would have helped a lot, in large part because the book just felt so academic.  I wasn’t expecting a “fun” book, but I just couldn’t get into it.  I’m wondering if Tim Wise’s White Like Me, would be a better starting point.

That said, I think one of the better analogies for thinking about white privilege is running a marathon (would like to give credit, but don’t remember where I heard this).  We’re all running the same marathon, but white privilege means that you get to start the race at mile 10, while someone else, just because his/her skin is a different color, starts at mile 0.  And then maybe your course looks a little different as a white person: fewer hills, or at mile 20, you get a “skip to mile 22” card.  Or maybe you’re white and born into poverty, so you don’t quite start at mile 10, but perhaps you start at mile 5 and experience some of the other benefits along the course.

Police practices
Objecting and speaking out against minority deaths at the hands of police officers doesn’t make one “anti-law enforcement.”  The reality is, we have serious problems.  This is not one “bad” officer, in one city.  This is a systemic problem throughout the United States.  The expectation that law enforcement exist to “serve and protect” should not depend on the color of one’s skin, but it does — here are the names and faces.  And it’s enough of an issue that it’s caught the attention of the United Nations.  We have a problem.

In our current “justice” system, police officers are often treated as if they are above the law.  There is little incentive for trying to diffuse situations rather than immediately resorting to force.  If you follow one link here, please read this article, written by a former St. Louis police officer.  It speaks volumes about the issues we face.

If you want to take action, sign this petition to reform how we investigate police misconduct, so police officers are held accountable for their actions.  There are legitimate alternatives to using lethal force (including avoiding escalating things to the point where it’s even considered), but it is becoming clear that without real disincentives to using lethal force, police have little reason to discontinue business as usual.

It would be nice to live in a cozy little world where “police aren’t the bad guys.”  Have I benefited or received help from police officers?  Absolutely!  But your experiences, and the degree to which you agree or disagree with the statement that “police are the good guys,” probably depends in large extent on the color of your skin.  That’s white privilege.  That’s racial injustice.  And it needs to change.



  1. EcoCatLady says:

    Another excellent post. I especially liked the article by the former police officer. Well… “liked” may not be exactly the right word, but you know what I mean.

    I think your comments about “colorblindness” are spot on. I’ve heard so many people try to say that they don’t have a problem with race therefore, they’re “off the hook.” Or that this isn’t about race, it’s about the police. I frankly think both of those things are just a convenient way not to have to look at the issue of racism in this society.

    Yes… I’m sure that most white people in this society are not overtly racist, and quite possibly don’t believe that it’s and issue for them – but that totally denies the reality of white privilege – and you cannot simply accept white privilege saying “I didn’t create it, so not my problem” without contributing to the racism of our society. And in terms of the “it’s about police not race” thing – well, it’s about race and power, and nowhere do those two issues confront each other so explosively as with the police.

    Anyhow, thank you for your willingness to talk openly and honestly about this topic.I signed the petition – special prosecutors would be a huge step in the right direction.

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      This article on the science of racism is interesting. Makes some of the points you made in your recent post (which I wanted to link to in my post, but my brain was too tired to figure out a way to fit it in, so I’ll do it here), that there doesn’t need to be “conscious, overt” racism for these events to occur.

  2. Dawn says:

    I am not defending or condoning the actions of the aforementioned officers, but, as the wife of a police officer, I ask-Do you know the percentage of interactions between police and civilians that involve a gun? I understand that police choose their profession and have the opportunity to leave as they please. Keep in mind that regardless of the dissatisfaction, disgust, and disregard the police are subject to, they do not get to pick and choose who they help and to which calls they respond. I know for a fact that my husband has arrested, ticketed, and trafficked more white people than African American people. I am not disillusioned to the presence of racism, even in our community, but targeting the police, who protect your peaceful assembly, with a blanket statement is not the solution–police are not the only source of racial profiling.
    *the answer to the previously mentioned question is 100%, and this might provide a little insight into why police respond and react in such a way*

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Dawn, I imagine this hits close to home, given your husband’s profession. I’m a little confused about your question and answer — 100% of interactions between police and civilians involve a gun??? Are you saying that 100% of civilians are carrying a gun?

      In a predominantly white town it would be VERY alarming if police officers were stopping more African Americans than white people, in straight numbers. The percentages are what matters.

      For example, in Ferguson, MO, “…blacks, who make up a little less than two-thirds of the driving-age population in the North County city, accounted for 86 percent of all stops. When stopped, they were almost twice as likely to be searched as whites and twice as likely to be arrested, though police were less likely to find contraband on them.” (Source)

      In a perfectly just system, assuming approximately equal crime rate, since 67% (2/3) of the driving age population in Ferguson is African American, then African Americans should account for about 67% of traffic stops (not 86%).

      If just 6% of a town’s population is black (say, a small town of about 27k people in Iowa), then you would expect about 6% of traffic stops to involve African Americans. In this case (a predominately white town), you could still have police stopping more white people (sheer numbers), but potentially still unfairly targeting African Americans (if traffic stops involving African Americans were significantly more than 6% of all traffic stops).

      I completely agree that police officers are not the only people subject to feeling and acting on racial bias (and sometimes this occurs at the subconscious level — see my comment above). I do think it is a particular problem when the people we authorize to carry deadly weapons and keep ALL of us safe are acting on these biases, with seemingly few checks or consequences.

      1. Dawn says:

        My point was every police officer carries a gun, and believe it or not, some people fight the officer for their weapons and then use it against them (or others). I think until you understand the perspective of police (or their families), it would be difficult for you to appreciate an alternative or controversial perspective. Officers receive at least 13 weeks of training (in Iowa), and as with any job, they use and apply the information. My husband has given more “breaks” to African Americans than whites, and he is on casual terms with a fair majority of the disenfranchised in our town. Not all police are bad or corrupt. Please remember this is my view–that of a policeman’s wife–and

    2. EcoCatLady says:

      Dawn, I totally hear your frustration here, but I don’t think anyone is saying that “cops are the bad guys.” When I look at these cases I see a convergence of many, many things that are wrong with this society.

      There’s the racism of course, but there’s also the issue of the incredibly unequal distribution of wealth in this society, which creates entire classes of people who are locked into poverty. There are also our obscenely ridiculous gun laws which mean that the police have to confront the reality of a civilian population that is often heavily armed. There’s the breakdown in our legal system where the prosecutors can’t manage to get an indictment of the police who killed Eric Garner, but somehow they managed to indict the guy who filmed it.

      And the reality here is that people who are protesting are not asking for police to be convicted of a crime… they’re simply asking for a trial so the legal system can do it’s job. I think appointing a special prosecutor who doesn’t have a conflict of interest in these cases is a complete no-brainer, as is the idea of having all police wear body cameras (another thing protesters are asking for.)

      No one is saying that all police are bad, but there’s an age old truth here: power corrupts. Our system of laws and government only works because the people consent to being governed. But when those in power cannot be held accountable for their actions, how is the public supposed to trust them? And you don’t have to look very far these days to see what happens when people lose trust in their governments and decide to take up arms against it. I don’t think any of us wants that.

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