These days, the hottest topic in national news must be the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Wilson: a black youth murdered by a white police officer. I am not here to deliver a verdict either way; but everyone must admit that this incident – along with many like it – has brought racial and socio-economic profiling to the forefront of everyone’s minds.
In my mind, I am beyond whether or not Office Wilson shot this young man, simply because he was black. I am beyond what type of aggressive or criminal behavior Michael Brown may have been displaying. Do I believe that Michael Brown deserved to die? Absolutely not. I do pray that this case will be handled as objectively as possible (a long shot, at this point) and that justice will be served – whether this means that Wilson is found guilty or innocent.
The thing that is disturbing me right now is the response I have seen. I have seen so many people say things to the effect of, “Well, Michael Brown was a thug, with low hanging pants. He robbed a store. He rushed an officer.” All of these things may be true, but I really, really need for us to stop using the word “thug.”
I’m starting to think that the working definition for “thug,” is “black man, who is less than middle class and dresses in a hip-hop style.” No need to educate me on the origins of low-hanging pants. I already know. My point is, not everyone who dresses like that is a criminal. Like my brother. He doesn’t wear low-hanging pants anymore, but he’s also not particularly clean cut. This evening, I noticed a picture of him giving a peace sign, but like a “cool” peace sign. I almost cried, thinking that this picture could be used in the future as proof that my brother is a lowlife thug. Honestly, I’m about to cry right now. I don’t agree with many aspects of my brother’s life, but I can tell you one thing: he is not a thug or a criminal.
Honestly, he may get a free pass, because he’s somewhat ethnically ambiguous. I am, too, but he is more so.
This evening, I was feeling very ill. I will get to that in a moment.
First, I want to mention an episode of “Kate and Allie,” a sitcom in the mid-80s about two white, middle-class, single moms sharing a brownstone in NYC. I used to love that show! There was an episode in which Allie was taking a taxi somewhere, and her purse got stolen. She’s far from her destination, and she needs a fare to get home. Eventually, it starts to rain, so her makeup and hair become messed up. She starts more and more to resemble a crazy homeless woman, and is treated as such by the people whom she approaches for help. If I remember correctly, this serves as a “don’t judge a book by its cover” reality check for Allie.
So, back to tonight:
I went to a home worship service with people from a different country. The home was about a 15 minute drive from my home. I enjoy their food, but sometimes, it does not agree with me well. For some reason, I felt compelled to eat three full plates tonight. Then, I started to get stomach cramps. Time to go. Silly me didn’t want to use the bathroom there, because it would be a sign that I couldn’t handle their food.
So, I set off to my home. I got about 100ft down the street, and my stomach started cramping. Badly. Then, there was nausea. I thought, “if I can just make it to the nearest fast food restaurant.
I made it as far as a friend’s house, which was about a two minute drive from where I’d just been. I knocked on her door, then went back down before she could get to the door. When she opened the door, I just said “bathroom, bathroom” and ran inside.
May I delicately report that I have no more of that food left in my stomach as of this writing. After a few trips back to her “bathroom, bathroom,” I sat down, completely drained. By the way, there is no central air in her home, so I was sweating quite a bit when in the bathroom. I probably remained at her house for another 30-45 minutes, and even fell asleep briefly. When I woke up, I thought I felt well enough to make it home.
I was wrong.
I felt dizzy, nauseated and crampy again. Really, I wanted to cry. Fortunately, her home isn’t too far from the main strip of gas stations and fast food restaurants. I pulled into the first gas station I saw. It had bars on all of the doors and windows. Pardon me for my own socio-economic profiling, but squealing in pain, I pulled right back out and drove a couple more blocks to a fast food place.
The restaurant is about to close. In walks a thin, black woman, dizzy and almost doubled over in pain. Hair is disheveled and sweaty, and there are traces of splashed vomit on her very casual outfit. The cashier asks what she’d like to order. All she can manage is a breathy, “I just need to use your bathroom. Please.” Then, she hobbles to her destination.
Could she be drunk? Could she be strung out?
The town in which I live is largely low income and blue collar. And there is, actually, incidence of drug and alcohol abuse and other irresponsible behavior that takes place here. Therefore, those two are not at all far-fetched possibilities.
When I felt ready to leave the restroom, I took a moment to straighten out my hair a little. For their kindness, I decided that I should order something. I also thought that would help me feel a little less dehydrated and dizzy for the remainder of my ride home.
As I ordered, I felt the need, somehow, to explain to the cashier exactly what was going on with me. He said, “Oh, I understand. I eat food from that region of the world pretty often.” Somehow, I felt the need to prove that I was neither drunk, nor strung out.
I’m at home now, and have been for nearly two hours. The cramping and nausea have subsided, but I still feel dizzy and weak.
The physical pain is gone, but the questions still remain:
What if I had been in a more affluent part of town?
What if the only place open had been a finer dining establishment?
What if the employees on duty hadn’t been two young, black men?
Even being where I was, I half-way expected the police to be waiting for me when I emerged from the restroom. If I’d have been in a different area, that half-way would have become fully.
This is such a tough situation, because my demeanor tonight is often indicative of some sort of substance abuse or mental illness. Similarly, Allie’s behavior and appearance on the show definitely resembled that of a homeless beggar.
I genuinely wish I had an answer for how to discern with great accuracy whether a person is truly a threat to others or himself or not.
Recently, I saw where a white man had tweeted something to the effect of, “I have to admit, I get nervous if I see a man board an airplane wearing a turban.”
A Sikh Indian replied, “I have to admit, I get nervous if I see a white man enter a movie theater.” (reference the mass killing in the movie theater, or the universities, or the elementary schools…)
So. What are some NOT dead giveaways that a person is planning to harm you?
1. He or she is black.
2. He or she is white.
3. He or she is wearing a clothing style that you don’t like, especially one that can be identified with hip-hop or country music culture.
4. He or she appears to be “less than” middle class.
5. He or she appears to be “more than” middle class.
I pray that we can all be more discerning and recognize real signs of danger; not based on skin color or social class.