What the Police Told Me: “they will kill you for being white”

Back in 1995 I lived in an apartment on Bankhead Highway in Atlanta. My roommate and I were the only white people in our complex, on our street, and as far as I could tell, on that whole side of the city. We got a lot of funny looks, were the subjects of quite a lot of loud jokes, but no one ever gave us any real trouble- but then there were the police.

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They never gave us any real trouble either, but they surely gave us a lot of attention. We used to ride the subway and I could tell every time the transit police changed assignments, because the new officers would without fail, ask us if we missed our stop once we passed the Georgia Dome. They were trying to be helpful, they usually looked concerned. The regular officers knew better, we were easily recognized in that we were Mormon missionaries in white shirts and name tags in addition to our whiteness. There was one instance where a veteran interrupted a new cop mid inquiry, by hitting his shoulder and rolling his eyes, waving the new guy to move on down the train. But always, there was a well-defined line which when the train crossed, the white people needed protection. They never asked the black kids if they missed their stop.13bball

There was that other time when a cop car pulled over to us as we were walking down our block. “Hey! You guys lost?” the officer asked. “No we are fine. Thank you.” Was my reply. “No. I mean what are you doing here?” He followed up. When I explained to him that we live “right over there,” the officer responded by calling me stupid. That is the word he used. I had at this point lived in that apartment for 7 months, and as a 19 year old I probably was in many ways stupid, but I remember clearly what the police officer said, “You are stupid. You shouldn’t live here. These people will kill you just for being white. Don’t call us when you are in trouble for being stupid because we won’t come help you. It is your own fault.” Then he drove away. I never did call the police and no one ever killed me for being white.

Since that time I have heard countless stories from white people, who were at one time in their personal history functioning in a majority black or brown environment (school, work, neighborhood) and were warned, sometimes by school officials, that they would be the target of violence. These stories are almost always told as a means to build the story tellers credibility or first-hand authority in matters of American race relations. There is normally an implied, though sometimes spoken, statement of the teller’s toughness for having endured the dangerous circumstances of being a white minority and the warning of how race really works in the world. These stories happen after a driver takes a wrong turn and finds themselves driving through an area full of brown people, or that time when they were 12 and had to go to a mostly black school and every time the point is that the white person was in real danger.

Yet none of the stories ever include a white person dying. I can recall about three stories (out of 30) where the school kid got in a fight, though none of them required medical attention. The black people on Bankhead never hurt me and none of those I have met who took the dangerous wrong turn, were ever actually assaulted. Where are the dead white bodies? By the persistence of these stories there should be graveyards filled with white victims of racial oppression. I suspect that white people reading this are simultaneously searching their memories to find their examples of actual black on white violence to refute my question. They (we) are looking for their anecdote to support this idea, that a brown or black majority is synonymous with anti-white violence. But it isn’t really necessary because the idea that it could have happened, because it is perceived as a possibility, is always enough to prove the point.

Why?

Is it true that white people in black spaces are in danger, so these stories are simply a practical warning? The data does not bear this out.11church

Does the data not back the lore because the warnings have been heeded? If the white folks had not fled when black people moved into their neighborhoods would there have been great rashes of black on white beatings? Are white people not accosted while driving through “bad”, aka black, neighborhoods at significant numbers only because the white people are listening and driving the long way home? Perhaps the myth is only a myth because it is effectively serving its purpose. Maybe.

I have wondered this quite a bit since 1995 and it led me to do a lot of looking. I have looked all the way back to the 1600’s and I will admit, I found some stories. There was that time in 1675 when a bunch of white people found themselves settling in a brown neighborhood called Plymouth and the brown people started burning villages and killing people for 3 years before they were permanently defeated and almost completely, exterminated. There was that time in 1831 when Nat Turner tried to kill all the white people in his neighborhood, or 1859 when John Brown riled up some black people and they killed 5 white people, injured 9, but were then themselves crushed by Robert E Lee. There was that time after the civil war in 1898 when the whole state of North Carolina, including Wilmington, was a black neighborhood. Violence broke out on voting day- and 100 black people were killed, black homes were burned, yet strangely no white people died.

There have been race riots in Atlanta (1906), St. Louis (1917), Chicago (1919), Tulsa (1921), Harlem (1935), Detroit (1943), Watts (1965), and on and on up till today there has been violence when black and white collide. Yet in every single one of those situations, including the ones back in the beginning, the primary casualty has always been the brown or black people. The white people win every time so why in all the stories people tell me, are the white people the ones in danger?

Maybe the persistence of this story, this trope, grows from the collective suppressed white awareness of how truly mistreated brown people have been, and the logic that says that this violence will inevitably be reciprocated whenever the opportunity is presented. Perhaps that is it, though that would be some seriously collective subconscious logic at work, but I think individuals should spend some time thinking through this logic and all of its implications and lessons.

But whatever the cause or origin of this line of story telling, that white people in brown or black places are in physical danger, what concerns me most, is when this idea is perpetuated or enforced, by those in authority- like cops. Or teachers. This concerns me because I have yet to find any tangible set of facts or events that bear out this widespread idea, in fact I have at least 20 years of first hand experience refuting it, but we as a society are trained to believe and trust police and cops. Or maybe I should just say white people are trained to trust these authorities.

Maybe thinking about this sort of storytelling can help us understand why there is a gap between who trusts the authorities and who does not.

When my white body moved into black Atlanta spaces, the police felt I needed protection. Their actions and inquiries made this obvious. Maybe those officers really did have information I do not, or had direct experience that I did not (surely both are true in many respects), but what was clear in those moments, and in all of those stories, was that the authorities believed that black and brown people posed a physical danger to white people.

That is the whole point of these stories. And it makes me fear for those black and brown people when I consider that people with badges, or run schools, are the ones who believe and tell that tale. In this sort of reality who are the ones being hurt?

It isn’t the white people.

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Mt. Rubidoux 

6pm on Mt. Rubidoux

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What the Kerner Commission Said About Ferguson: Nostradamus

I was having a relatively ineffectual day, the kind where your efforts come to naught, so I did what a reasonable person would do in such a situation- I went home and re-read the Kerner Commission Report.

One of the scholars interviewed in the study reported, “I read the report of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’35, the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’43, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot.

I must again in candor say to you members of this commission- it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland- with the same moving picture re-shown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.”

When Dr. Kenneth B. Clark wrote this, there had been no O.J. riot, no Ferguson, no police body cams, and no Facebook streaming, no Charlottesville- and yet his statement and words ring true today. This man was frustrated by the persistence and repetition of race violence and the associated causes, and 50 years and a black president later, things are still-the-same.

And we don’t need to wonder why.

And we don’t really need another commission to explore the issue.

Because the causes and problems are eerily, creepily, frustratingly- the same.

The problem is that we have never actually taken the actions the study proposed, compounded with a glaring gap where the report made no proposal at all.

The report gives plenty of advice, mostly in re-training the police and National Guard. It also suggested an investment in supporting poor black communities on a scale never before seen- proportionate to the centuries of devastation imposed on the American black population.

What it did not do was prescribe anything to change the cause of the disparity and grief in the first place- white racism and the pervasive and profound lack of white understanding. It pointed a stern finger of blame in one direction (white America), then pointed the finger in the opposite direction moving forward.

Why should any of us be surprised that things have not changed?

The report has this big blind spot, ironically in line with the report’s own conclusions, in that it warns of an impending fracture between black and white- as if the two were ever together. When were we one? The report urges integration, but when it describes what integration is, it lays out abandoning the city and inserting black people into the white suburban community with its associated opportunities. It does so as if those white communities will magically accept these black interlopers, an action they had never done collectively. Why would they-we- change now?

The answer is pretty easy. In large part we haven’t.

We haven’t because, as the report clearly stated in 1967, we white people still don’t understand what it was all about in the first place. I was once taught, and I have seen hundreds of kids taught since, that the original problem was treating people differently because of skin color. That the problem was calling people that N-word. That the problem was the indignity of making people sit in the back of the bus. That the problem was a drinking fountain or entering a business through a separate door.

We were and are taught that the solution, as proposed by the undisputed leader and solution provider Dr. Martin Luther King, was to simply stop judging individuals by their skin, despite Dr. King having never taught that as a solution but rather a goal, but our lessons skipped the work in between. And I will say with confidence, despite the critics, that so many in my generation took the bait. We did it. We listened to our teachers, we followed the king, and we worked to not judge black people.  We idolized Michael Jordan, we listened to Snoop Dog, and we voted for Obama. We did what our teachers and our parents and our churches told us we needed to do to make the world better, we cheered for, and were nice to, black people.

And still Ferguson. We shouldn’t be surprised. The Moynihan Report (196-) and the Kerner Commission (1967) both, explained exactly how and why Ferguson and Baltimore would happen. It stated plain as day that racial violence breaks out in cities because the environment created by white policy makers and power brokers stifles black pursuit of happiness- that jobs were too scarce, that housing was too expensive and run down, that education was underutilized and underfunded, that life was too hard, and that unchecked police brutality in this environment touches off the powder keg- and that the general white population, the ones making major policy decisions and holding the collective purse strings, has absolutely no understanding of how hard life really is in what the report calls the ghetto.

It does not suggest that the solution is to stop saying the N-word out loud. It does not suggest that the problem was interpersonal rudeness and insensitivity. Yet that is where we white folks worked he hardest.

The report suggested monumental increased welfare support of poor black communities. Our investment was not monumental- but our resistance has been. I have been told by many people, in many instances, that this report warns of, and blames, the disintegration of the traditional black family as a cause of welfare dependence and community degeneration. Yet none of these people also explained to me that what this report really claims is that black men, black father’s, were and are being driven from their families by lack of opportunity and a system that prevents them from being able to both stay home and provide. No one told me that the problems with the welfare system were that it didn’t go far enough or last long enough to support any family from doing what they all wanted to do, which was to progress and become self-sufficient. Never once did the report state that government assistance generated laziness or lack of will to move on. What it did say is that the meager scraps provided through assistance were the best options available and were meted out in a manner that trapped individuals into dependence- and it stated outright that the only way out was a major tax funded increase on a majestic scale.

Yet I have heard so many cite the report as a justification for decreasing public assistance. I doubt those who told me this ever actually read the report.

The commission stated that violent and militaristic overreaction of law enforcement sparked the race riots of the 60’s and suggested substantial retraining and accountability of police. The current administration has stated outright it wants to reverse any efforts to do so. I have been told today that saying “black lives matter” is racist against white people and antagonistic to police. I am told that after watching videos of a handcuffed black kid in Oakland being shot by a cop on a subway platform, or a 12 year old black child being shot by officers when the 911 call suggested he had a toy gun, or when I watch a police officer shoot a mental health worker who was lying on his back with his hands in the air, or when I question how a handcuffed black kid gets his neck broken while in the back of a police van, that I should withhold judgement or emotion because the cop was afraid. I think of this argument and read it plastered across my Facebook feed, and then I read the report of Newark 50 years ago.

I read about how the National Guard had taken cover on corners and behind cars, lying flat for safety, because they were under sniper fire from a housing project. The local Director of Police arrived on the scene and walked boldly upright through the middle of this scene and no shots were fired. Eventually, as the officer finished surveying the scene, a gunshot finally came, sending the already hunkered Guardsmen scrambling. The officer, who knew this place, didn’t scramble but walked over to one of the soldiers and asked him if he was the one that fired. He said that he had. He had seen someone near a window and shot at them. The local officer stayed on the scene for several hours with no incident. Upon his departure two additional columns of Guardsmen were called to these scene and directed mass fire into the projects in response to reported snipers. And then I watch footage from Ferguson.

Or Charlottesville. And I wonder when we will follow the advice and recommendations we have been giving ourselves since before violence in Baltimore, L.A., Charlottesville, or anywhere going all the way back through reconstruction? When will WE, the white people who explicitly or implicitly control so much of what happens with our taxes, our public policy, our society, change? Change in a way that will help. Change in a way that will work. Get better in the big way, not just the one-on-one easy way.

Maybe more of us should start by simply reading, not reading about, the Kerner Commission report. Or the Ferguson Report Maybe even that one from Moynihan too.

https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/8073NCJRS.pdf

https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf

https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/moynchapter5.htm

 

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Lenses: looking good to others and what you see

Anyone who wears glasses, or just sunglasses, knows that the pair you wear affects how you look, and how you see. So you should put some thought into the pair you pick.IMG_6032

I remember getting my first pair of glasses back in the 6th grade. It was a big deal and I remember the selection process very well. The first step was to know the price point my parent’s insurance would cover- it was low. The second, and at the time I thought the most important, was to know I was only looking at the men’s section. Lastly, and this part was the hardest because there were no signs or labels, though there were small hints called “brands” on the inside of the stem, was to try to remember what the glasses looked like in the GQ magazine I browsed while loitering at the grocery store.IMG_3393In the end none of it mattered because I was a self conscious kid and the next day at school some kid said, “Nice glasses Clark Kent”. Embarrassed I stuffed the glasses in my pocket vowing to wear them as little as possible.IMG_4271 (2)I have learned some things since then and in recognizing the value in those lessons, I am passing them along to you.

First, consider who you are and what you need. Below is a link illustrating the most flattering frame shape in relation to your face. You can trust Esquire.

Frame shape will help ensure you are seen in the most flattering way possible. now what you actually see while looking through the lenses is another story.

For corrective lenses this is all prescription so trust the doctor, but for shade from the sun there are options. Always go with UV protection, then do as you please with amber tint, mirrored, or the proverbial rose colored. All of these will effect what you see when you put them on.nycme

Some people call this tinting. Some call it perspective. It can also be called a theoretical lens. But no matter the moniker, where you stand and the direction you face, will effect what you see and how you view it.IMG_0729

Let me illustrate, not just what this means, but why it might matter.

Go back up to that Esquire graphic and look closer. What do you notice? Are you looking for the shape that most closely matches yours? Are you noting the brand names suggested with each frame shape and are you at all skeptical that no brands are repeated? Maybe you are like me and are thinking about how the shape of your face has shifted thanks to a shifting hair line and that newly gained flesh between your jaw and neck?IMG_1162

Did you notice that all of the illustrations were of men who appear to be white? Or maybe not white, because how could you really know if one was from China or India? But did you notice the hair? Why or why not? Why don’t any of the illustrations appear to be black? Does it matter? Does it matter to you?

Maybe it has something to do with your lens.

Everyone wants to look good. Even people who claim they pay no attention to physical appearance are still concerned with image. Those who choose not to “dress to impress” are still pushing an image. They just don’t want to be seen as one who cares what you see, which may be accurate for the person in question. They might really not care what you think. But we are all seen none-the-less and we all see things a certain way.

And this effects all of us.

It changes our conversations and influences how we listen and hear. It changes how we vote and with whom we associate and quite often paints what we think is or is not true.

I might think I look hot, you might disagree, but don’t try to deny that I have a face. Check and change your lens, turn this way and that, collect perspectives and views, but then look right at me, or you, or them, and know, and accept, and believe, that there are faces all around and they are people and they matter.

The fact that we all have a lens that influences our vision does not negate some fundamental truths. Everywhere, there is a base, a foundational fact, a place at which there is no argument. A place on which we can begin to build. A face shape.  A place to start.

Once you know where to start you can begin making better decisions.

My first pair of glasses began with me having no idea what I really wanted but rather me being told by all sorts of others what I should choose. In the end it didn’t really matter because from where I was sitting, and with the tools I had, I could too easily be pushed around by some other kids whose self interests paid no attention to mine.

So remember, in everything, your lenses matter. How confident are you in the pair you are wearing?

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The Sport of Kings and Ralph Lifshitz

eI have no idea how much experience Ralph Lifshitz had with the sport of polo before he sewed a little pony on a shirt and changed his name to Lauren. What I do know is that before the other day that little logo was all I knew about the game. I’m guessing this is true for most of us.IMG_7936Finding myself with some extra time and contemplating my ignorance, I took a minute to linger and look over the fence of the California Polo Club. The first thing I learned was that these folks are surprisingly friendly.IMG_7940A woman with an accent walking past asked me if I wanted to come in rather than peek. I’m guessing she was from Argentina and she introduced me to a man I’m guessing is from the United Arab Emirates. The woman who eventually did most of the talking sounded Californian and was happy to tell me all about the rules of the game; the most important of which was that anyone can learn them and that I should join the club.IMG_7938The next thing I learned, or rather remembered, is that middle class amateurs in any sport are obsessed with the minutia of sporting equipment. In direct alignment with that principle was me realizing how susceptible we all are to the trap of perceptions.

Perception.

In some places perception is everything.

Right Ralph Lauren?IMG_7937What I watched that day was the testing of novices to see if they were ready to advance to beginners club competition. This testing is somewhat important considering horses are big strong animals with the potential to break regular sized people- like superman.

Milling around the stables and staging tent I watched as a small bunch of both men and women picked out clubs, pulled on tall boots, and tightened up chin straps. One in particular had extra bits of this and that. Fancier bag, extra padding, and a little silver topped whip. No one else had one of those.IMG_7939The one with the extra stuff, also had a little extra confidence. The kind of confidence that breeds the same in others. This one was obviously the leader- the one a competitor would expect to be the competition.

Then they got on the horses.

Captain A Type looked wobbly in the saddle, awkward with the club, and most of all, appeared deaf to the frumpy looking lady with the clip board barking out instructions. She didn’t look fancy, in fact she was wearing an ill fitting straw hat she borrowed from the friendly lady, and Mr. Confidence looked like he couldn’t find the horse’s steering wheel.

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I still haven’t seen a Polo game. I remain ignorant. But what I do know is that just like the shirts and their little horses, or in some cases the big pony, or in the case of last names, or fancy little whips, I think they are called crops, looks aren’t reality.

Just seeing something doesn’t really tell you everything.

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Cost of College When Converted to Minimum Wage Hours

Because I had some extra time on a Sunday afternoon, I thought I would take the time to convert the cost of college into minimum wage hours. I may need to reevaluate how I spend my free time.

The current federally mandated minimum wage is $7.25.

The current average in-state tuition at a public university is $9,410. That figures out to 1,297 hours of work.statue main building

Just for fun, and perspective, the minimum wage and average tuition in 1970 was $1.60 and $358 respectively. That represents a 481% increase in minimum wage hours.

But that is just tuition. People also need to sleep and eat, which costs more money, especially if you intend to sleep indoors. To pay the average room, board, AND the average tuition, a minimum wage worker must put in 40 hours per week- for 15 months.

College accreditation boards assume (dictate) that a full time college student will spend between 24-36 hours per week in class or studying. The variance is due to the variations in class content and student aptitude. Let’s call it 30 hours for simplicity.

40 hours working, plus 30 hours schooling, leaves 98 hours per week to also fit in 56 hours of sleeping, giving a student 6 hours per day left over. How luxurious. Anyone can do that right?

Perhaps one can. It would be hard of course, but anything worth doing is hard right?

Maybe those extra six hours a day are necessary for beer-pong and protesting things. Or maybe they are needed to work out ways to find a minimum wage job that will schedule you for 40 hours per week, which doesn’t happen because that’s full time and requires benefits, so probably the student needs two part time jobs that will each schedule out 20 hours a week. If they are both on campus this could work, cut down on travel time and whatnot, but if not this kid will need to schedule in some travel time. On a bus. Because I forgot to figure in the expenses associated with a car. Or laundry. I’m going to pretend this is a pretty responsible student and assume they cut out beer-pong.

The math proves it can be done- at least in a perfect vacuum without unexpected expenses or buying toiletries- or income taxes.toepenn

But… and of course there is a but…

This student will not be able to do an internship, play any sports or join any clubs. This student will have to go to class, study, and work, forget playing around. No high jinks or animal house ballyhoo, which sounds like the no nonsense real life dictates any responsible parent would tell their child. Especially if that parent is doling out advice with the wisdom of their own experience from back in 1970.

Which makes me a little sad and terrified.

Sad because things are indeed different now, but also terrified because college’s usefulness is really in all those things outside the classroom. Doing good in class puts a lot of stuff inside your head but it doesn’t put your butt into a job. Most of the things that lead to jobs, like relationship networks, internships, experiences, and interviews, all happen after hours.

That isn’t even considering the things that lead to actual learning and thinking, like study abroad, field work, and participation in diverse experiential activities. This minimum wage working, public school going, student will be working very hard to get the bare minimum of what colleges offer and is very likely going to get some negative feedback from Mom and Dad when they ask for extra money or bring home loads of extra laundry and this student will probably get a lecture about how it was back in the old days and how kids didn’t complain and they did it themselves so quit being a complainey little snowflake.

So, dear snowflake, let me help you a little. What follows is not science, nor does it consider things like taxes and interest, but it gives you a thumbnail of how now compares to then in the spirit of making apples versus oranges more into apples versus crab apples.

Average 1970

Salary- $6,186= $515.50 per month no taxes

Cost of home- $23,600/3 years salary/$65.50 per month for 30 years no interest

New car $3,542/$59 per month for 5 years no interest

Healthcare $380 per year= $31 per month

Monthly budget

Rent $65.50 + Car $59 + Ins $31 = $155.50 or 30.16% of income

Minimum wage- $1.60

Tuition at local state U- $358= 223 hours minimum wage work

 

Average 2017

Salary- $51,939= $4,328.25 no taxes

Cost of home- $292,891/5 year salary/$813 per month for 30 years no interest

New car- $30, 152/$502 per month for 5 years no interest

Healthcare $9,810= $817 per month

Rent $813 + Car $502 + Health $817 = $2132 or 49.25% of income

Minimum wage- $7.25

Tuition at local state U- $9410= 1297 hours minimum wage work

College is 481% more expensive today when converted to minimum wage hours.

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Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: aptly named Antelope Island

To my knowledge there are no homes where this buffalo roams and I did indeed see antelope play.IMG_8952

The best part was I didn’t have to go far to see these animals. I didn’t even have to get out of my car- but I did get out of my car. My wife and children were screaming, “What are you doing? You are going to die! That thing is going to eat you!”

None of those things happened (the dying that is. I really did get out of the car).IMG_8969

They didn’t happen because while I can be categorized as a tourist, I’m not exactly the kind you call stupid. At least not when it comes to interacting with wildlife- though I have been known to metaphorically poke bears.IMG_8877

First, I know both bison and antelope are herbivores, and second, I didn’t try to touch anything while staying far enough from the animal and close enough to the car, to run if I had to.

I’m not new to this game.

Though I did see some guy in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off creeping up through the grass toward the buffalo. he didn’t die either though I did think he was stupid. I didn’t say it out loud, just in my head, which was still not nice despite its truth.IMG_8917Antelope Island is out in the middle of the Great Salt Lake but you can drive there on a causeway. You can see it from the city but not many people go there. Which makes it kind of nice.

If you don’t want to be around a lot of people.

I don’t mind people but I love expanses. Vistas. I love being in the center of everything or the middle of nothing. It is those in-betweens that I don’t like, speaking geographically not ideologically.

Though the extremities are where you normally find sleeping bears to poke.

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