In the past month or so, I've become more and more aware of how racism permeates so many aspects of society. Growing up in a very white, rural community, I didn't have much of an opportunity as a child to see the stark differences between housing, schooling, and policing. I grew up on a farm and all my neighbors were white. In elementary school, all of my classmates were white. In middle and high school, we had ONE family of Pacific Islander and ONE family of Hispanic descent. That was it! Until college, I didn't have many opportunities to interact with people that didn't look like me. And because of that, it was so easy to ignore flaws in the system. Nobody I knew had been affected by redlining, or racial disparities in education, or the school-to-prison pipeline. When I grew up, the cops were a symbol of justice that sometimes did less cool things like setting speed traps between my school and my home.
In particular, I've been trying to get a better grasp on how fundamental racism was to the development of law enforcement. I read an account of a man from Wisconsin talking about how as a child the cops stopped him while he was practicing for cross country and immediately assumed that the iPod he was using was stolen. The only reason the cops decided to let it go was that the iPod had the person's name engraved on it! It made me think about one of my experiences with the police. One afternoon, while driving home from school in my father's car, I sped past a county sheriff car and they pulled me over. My father was the technology system administrator for the school district - the backseat was FILLED with iMacs. They were pretty well obsolete at the time, but they certainly looked like technology that would be worth a pretty penny. When the deputy came to my window, he talked to me about speeding and then noticed the computers. He asked about them, I told them that they were for my dad's work and that he worked at the school, and the deputy immediately believed me. I was telling the truth - but so was the boy with the iPod! I was breaking the law and was pulled over - he was doing nothing wrong when the cops stopped him! If I had been black, would my experience have been different? I was frustrated by receiving an $84 ticket, even though I knew I deserved it, but... I emerged from that situation with my life and without a criminal record. Because I didn't have a criminal record, I was able to pursue other aspects of living without a second thought.
We lose so many young black people to a system made to oppress them, whether the system takes their opportunities for housing or education or employment or freedom or their life. How can I possibly believe the system is fair and just, knowing that my experiences are different solely because of the color of my skin?