On Dealing With Racist Law Enforcement Officials When You’re a Person of Color
I originally wrote this post a year ago when it was featured at Fox News Latino. I think it’s still relevant to the furor surrounding the Mike Brown case, as it was the Trayvon Martin case. I’ve edited a few minor sections for clarity.
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There’s been a lot of angry rhetoric about whether race enters into the raising of children, and specifically, how African-Americans should tell their children to act around white people and law enforcement officials. Since so many of these are anecdotal, I thought to add my experience to the cacophony.
My family lived in a working class poor neighborhood in southern California. It was also very Hispanic, and as far as we knew, mostly Mexican. One of my best friends was Arabic but he looked Hispanic, and we didn’t really know what being Arabic meant, so it didn’t matter to anyone except our parents couldn’t talk to his in Spanish (and therefore, not at all).
I often heard stories about racist cops and racist white people doing racist things to my Mexican relatives and friends. Even at that early age, I was somewhat skeptical — it seemed to me that in many of these anecdotes, I could see how some instigated and escalated any conflict with authorities and whites. I rarely voiced my skepticism, but when I did, it wasn’t appreciated.
Finally one day when I was about 15 a relative had it out with me. Angrily, he yelled at me at how it was easy for me to deny racism since I didn’t drive yet, but once I did, he said, “you’ll know how racist these f***ng cops are!”
He had me there. I didn’t have that experience. So I said, “Maybe you’re right, maybe once I drive on my own I’ll find out.”
In my long life as a White Hispanic (or “Whisp” as I like to call us now), I have driven many a mile and been pulled over by many a policeman, mostly for speeding. As far as I recall, each law enforcement official has been terribly professional, and some have been downright friendly.
I might posit that if I were more white than Hispanic, I’d have less speeding tickets, but aside from that, I have no experience whatsoever with racist bigoted law enforcement officials.
What’s the difference between my relative’s experience and mine?
When I address a policeman/woman/other, especially after being pulled over, it’s “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” I don’t think I heard this relative ever talk about police without a curse word or an epithet, especially those having to do with pork products. This is the same for others who were raised in the same socioeconomic environment I was raised in.
This absolute chasm of experience between the “ghetto” mindset and others explains the completely different reactions to the Zimmerman trial. While most Caucasians don’t understand the sting of a parent having to tell a child to act a certain way because of perceived racial bigotry, it’s also the case that most kids that need this instruction aren’t getting it at all.
I can understand how well-to-do African-Americans and others might be offended and angry that they need to teach their kids to be respectful to authorities, but they act as if Caucasians don’t have the same responsibility. It is a duty of all parents, regardless of skin color, to teach their children to be respectful to everyone, including law enforcement officers.
The deeper issue at work here is the plague of fatherless homes – kids raised without a father are simply less likely to be respectful of anyone, and minority communities have especially high single-parent family rates. Does that mean no child with a single parent can be raised to be respectful? Of course not.
There are single-parent families who are fortunate enough to be able to raise children as respectful members of society. But it is destructive of their communities if these families are offended more by critics pointing out the preponderance of disrespect, than by those who are disrespectful.
It’s akin to saying that because you happen not to be overweight, it’s offensive that anyone points out the high obesity rate in your community and tries to rectify it.
In no way does that ignore that real police bigotry exists, or that racism really happens in our otherwise great country. When these acts occur, it is right for us to condemn them and seek to punish those who commit such acts when they’re illegal.
However, it does no community any good to ignore the real problem of fatherless homes that result in embittered, angry youth. Focusing anger on media critics and politicians who point it out is much less constructive than trying to change this for the better.