Post Racial? White Privilege?

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Last week a video made its rounds on the interwebs (the video is below if you've not seen it). It was a video from CNN's Don Lemon discussing the "n-word". Levar Burton (Star Trek, Roots and Reading Rainbow) spoke of what he (and his sons) customarily do when they are pulled over by law enforcement officers. He essentially said that when encountering a LEO he removes his hat and sunglasses. He then says that he places both of his hands outside of the window in an effort to make the officer more at ease. I think the broader point of "white privilege" that was made has been overshadowed by what Levar Burton said.

I refuse to accept this as my reality. There is no doubt that this practice will make the officer more at ease. Nevertheless, I would *never* do this--nor encourage my son (nor any of my nephews to do this). To do so would be to have him resign to the fact that the onus of making a professional Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) feel at ease is his; it is not. No American should feel this. No American. Strike that. No person should be treated this way.

White privilege is something that is very much real. I have had to experience the humiliation of being followed in a department store. I have had to feel the degradation of being pulled over by a LEO who is concerned for the driver of the car--your brother's white girlfriend--that is filled with three black men. I have witnessed my brother and me being stopped by an officer while walking home from Dudley. Our crime? Walking while black. There are no words to explain what that does to a fifteen year-old black kid.

We need these dialogues. I need for my white friends to feel the discomfort that these conversations bring. That discomfort lets you know that something is wrong. I need for my non-white friends to understand that for every bigoted and scared LEO there are excellent LEOs, like Trooper Travis, (who pulled me over for speeding on my birthday in 2012) who treats folks with respect and integrity. We each need to understand that each person should be judged--as Dr. King so wisely exhorted--by the content of his or her character and not the color of his or her skin. Fact: racism exists across the racial spectrum. Fact: we are inextricably bound; what affects one affects us all--again, wisdom from Dr. King.

How will you have these conversations? How will you deal with the biases that exist within you--we each have them from one degree or another. How will you dig deep and ask the uncomfortable questions.

May we each love. May we each allow others to live as we wish to live. Peace.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for this excellent post. I did not grow up black so I can't say I understand anything from that perspective, but I can tell you that it took years (is taking years for me to trust LEO as a unit. I have met many one on one who I got along with well, but as a "faceless" officer, they unnerve me. In my adolescent years (which stretched well into my late 20's) I used to do the same thing that Burton does when he's stopped. Black, white, tan... its disturbing that we live in a society that fears law enforcement. They should be our protectors from lawlessness but instead too often perpetuate it by stepping on the people the law was intended to protect. So while I don't know how I feel about the concept of white privilege, I do know that you are dead on about the dehumanization that comes from being treated as something less than an equal... and I know that this is both fundamentally not American and not Biblical. So I hope you will continue to ask the hard questions, to provoke the uncomfortable conversations, and lead on till morning... a new day will dawn.

Ray McKinnon said...

Thanks so much for this thoughtful response! I really appreciate it!

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