Thursday, February 23, 2012


"Alright, little girl. How do you know this man?"
"He's my father."
He looked at my father who was standing with the other cop. My father was staring at me with a tense smile. The cop smiled a little. Then he touched my shoulder and pulled me away from my father and the other cop. He said in a whisper, You can tell us, kiddie. He can't hurt you here. You're safe now. Did he touch you funny?"
No, he didn't! He's my father!"...

Those of you who've read Danzy Senna's book, Caucasia know that scene well. It's a father and his daughter doing what all good daddies and happy daughters do together, strolling along a path of green on a summer day with ice cream cones in their hands. What makes this dad and daughter stand out, however, is that he's African American and his daughter is very fair-skinned cos mama's Euro-American. This is the 1960s and White bystanders assumed that the little girl was being kidnapped by a Black man, so then po-po shows up to question the father. And even after showing his ID while a crowd of both concerned Whites and nervous Blacks surrounded them, the cop still didn't believe him. He just pulled his daughter away from him to question her privately and even tried to coerce her into saying something they could use against him. But by now she was hip to what was really going on and angrily said again, "He's my father!". Consider the meaning behind having to prove your dad is your dad to a suspicious cop and crowd solely cos of the sharp differences in your skin shades; consider how this incident shaped this little girl's opinion of the world around her and of herself in comparison to it. And consider how humiliating it must've been for her dad to stifle his natural urge to punch an overrated, trigger happy cop in the face!

Fast forward to a few winters ago when I was taking my friends' son to the bus terminal. He was coming from college out west, did a stop over in NYC and was now headed north to his parents. My friends are Euro-American, tho this was an insignificant factor since we all knew each other from the time my daughter and his son enjoyed the zoo together. But an overrated, trigger happy cop began badgering me while a crowd of concerned Whites and nervous Blacks watched. He didn't take my friends' son to the side, nor asked me for ID. Instead he accused me of being a robber. Said I looked like one of the bus terminal regulars. But I remember him peeping us from the time we set foot on the terminal. When you're someone like me; someone who experiences institutional race-ism almost on a daily basis, and someone who's paying attention, you know better to notice po-po wherever you're going. So I knew he'd been watching us buying the bus ticket, talking and laughing, and then waiting on line standing next to each other like we knew each other. He knew there was an energy of family around us and that's what pissed him off the most, I imagine, besides my not paying him no mind (it throws them off when you walk without fear). So the only thing he could do was bark at me, hoping I'd re-act so he could humiliate me in front of an audience by pinning me down on the ground, handcuffing me and taking me in for booking regardless of the fact that he was in the wrong. But I chilled. Plus, his mother didn't need to hear about blood stains on the ground of a major city terminal cos I lost my cool. Still, while the cop was spitting his racist venom at me I kept thinking about the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I couldn't help wondering that had it been a White man helping a young Black male catch his bus that it would've appeared more 'normal' to this asshole and maybe to those people watching it all go down.

In any event, just like Danzy Senna got in her dad's car and let the silence between them communicate their angsts, my friends' son got on the bus distraught over having seen race-ism and police terrorism up close and personal. And even after we all did our formal complaints to proper authorities, he got a lesson in American life that no teacher or book could ever bring to his consciousnes. He got an alarm call on the kind of lessons European American kids must have in and out of the classroom before they can even begin to understand the concept of privilege.

This is not victim mentality. This is intelligence. This is being informed, especially if you live in a bubble and therefore never live the America our youth complain and Rap about. Victim mindset is a little girl who stops writing cos she doesn't think her story will be worth sharing. It's close friends who stop being friends cos one of them can't see pass their rage.

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