Passing: A Bi-Racial Perspective On Racial Inequality In America


Cappuccino Queen circa 2005

Cappuccino Queen circa 2005

 

In the past few years, it seems like topic of race has gotten to a boiling point many times.  Particularly, it seems, as it relates to the American Justice System.  When Trayvon Martin was gunned down in February of 2012, I sat in horror as his killer walked free under the baffling and absurd “stand your ground” law in Florida.  While this case seemed outrageous to me, what seemed more troubling was how public opinion on this case seemed to split down racial lines.  In many cases, all reason flew out the window as people tried to justify George Zimmerman’s actions by agreeing that a black man wearing a hooded sweatshirt was “intimidating”.

Now, we fast forward a little over two years and another young black man is gunned down – Michael Brown.  This time, however, it wasn’t a hot headed neighborhood watch (police officer wannabe), it was an actual police officer. This time, however, the case never even made it to trial, witnesses were never cross examined, and violent protests broke out all across the country as a result.  Similar to the Martin case, though, I see logic fly out the window as people join opinion camps based largely on their racial affiliation.

These tragic cases force us to face painful realities about our country.  While we can all wear the badge of honor of having a black President, we must also come to terms with the fact that we have yet to reach the Utopia of racial equality that some of our countrymen like to claim we have.  For those of you who don’t know, I am multi-racial.  From a young age, however, I realized that it didn’t matter as much what I defined myself as because America had my label picked out before I was born.  Any bi-racial people in America (who is at all black) would likely agree that the “one drop rule” still exists.  Without getting into the history of the one drop rule, let me just give you this example:

Say a police officer pulls over a car full of people.  In that car, there are a few black people, a white person, and a bi-racial people.  If the officer says, “All the black folks need to get out of the car”…the bi-racial person will be getting out of the car.  I would say nine times out of ten, no matter how pale that bi-racial person is, he/she will get out.

So, at this point you might be wondering why I am boring you with these strange distinctions about race.  I say this to offer my perspective, as a multi-racial American on all the race drama that has occurred over the past few years.  When these news events arise, it is never simple for us.  We never get to just jump on a race side, and we are always reminded of both how we define ourselves and how society defines us.

My White Side:  While I largely identify myself as a black woman (see “one drop rule” above), I am often intrigued by how the Martin and Brown cases both raised the issue of white privilege.  It seemed as though so many white Americans didn’t want to see these cases as unjust because deep down this would force them to face white privilege.  In my eyes, white privilege doesn’t mean that white people don’t have to work hard, or that they don’t earn what they have in society.  What it means, to me, is that white people don’t have to overcome some of the simple obstacles that black people do.  For example, a white teenager walking in the dark, in an affluent Florida neighborhood, would likely be given the benefit of the doubt.  He wouldn’t be perceived as a thug simply because of the color of his skin.  This is a basic example of white privilege.  Does this mean that teen didn’t earn the good grades he got in school?  No.  It just means that he was given the privilege of not being hunted down the way Martin was in February 2012.

Now, I am not going to stand here on my bi-racial pedestal and not turn the mirror on myself.  To be blunt – I have benefited from white privilege, and I am not ashamed to admit that.  Some people might think I am insane saying this, as often times it is fairly obvious that I am not white.  Even when I am not passing, I am not naive to the fact that I have had advantages in life because my skin is light and my eyes are blue.  While nobody has come up to me and told me that I have gotten something based on this, it becomes fairly evident when I am in a crowd of people at work who don’t bat an eye when making a racist or homophobic joke in front of me.  I have even had some of my own friends say things like, “well, you aren’t like actually black.”  For the record, my response to this is, “Um…but actually I am.”   I then usually stare at them awkwardly in hopes that they will overcome some of this ignorance on their own so that I don’t have to continue to educate after such a ridiculous encounter.

 

My Black Side:  Growing up, I remember being aware of my brown skin from a fairly early age.  I grew up in a majority white community where I often felt like the black kid in the bunch.  That said, it wasn’t until I became an adult and experienced some of the worst racial discrimination that our nation has to offer when I truly saw the one drop rule play out first hand.  On October 12, 2011 I sat in front of a Prince William County Virginia Police Officer as he accused me of a crime I didn’t commit.  As he wrote up the paperwork in front of me and my attorney, I saw him stamp me with the “black” label right before my eyes.  He didn’t ask me which box he should check, he just picked one.  While I will never be able to prove that his judgement of me was racially charged, I will never forget how my ex (who was paler than me) would claim to be white when he convinced the officer to charge me.  I will also never forget about the day that same police department brought in a black officer (two years later), while they admitted to just a few of the terribly unjust things they did to me and my family.  I guess the random black officer was to show us that what they had done wasn’t racially motivated.

 

Passing:  The topic of passing is a tricky one.  I bring it up to explain how it feels to be “in between”.  As a bi-racial woman, I often feel as though I don’t really belong in any category.  While most of the time I think its obvious that I am bi-racial, I still often find myself in situations where I almost feel as though I have to announce myself so that people don’t put me in weird uncomfortable situations by forgetting that a minority is present.  Other situations that people might not think about are those times when someone finds out your aren’t white (or maybe that you aren’t black) when you thought it was obvious.  For example, the picture I used for this post was one that I put in my online dating profile when I was in my early 20′s.  On one date, I actually had a man tell me he was disappointed because he didn’t realize that I was black from my picture.  Just the other day, I had a friend tell me that this particular picture looked like I had bleached my skin.

As a bi-racial person, I often wonder if I have to have the race conversation more than most.  I can imagine that sometimes it is similar to someone who is Gay who would rather just announce it and get it out of the way, rather than find out later that the person they just met is homophobic.

 

As a parent, the boiling point on these race issues scare me.  I wonder what it will be like when my daughter is my age.  I know that by that time, there will likely be more people who feel pulled in many different directions when these situations occur.  Regardless of how she identifies, or how society identifies her, I pray that she will stand on the side of justice.  And for everyone reading this, no matter what racial category you fall into, I hope that you will think of how you can be a part of the change for the better.  I hope you will face your own demons on these issues.  We all owe it to our children to make sure that this conversation is evolved by the time they are grown enough to be having it for themselves.

 

 

Why Nobody Wins After Ferguson

 

 

Ferguson-Cover

 

I remember exactly where I was, and how I felt, on October 3, 1995.  I was a freshman in High School.  That afternoon, me and several of my classmates piled into the basement of my dormitory (I went to Board School) and anxiously awaited the verdict in the OJ Simpson murder trial.  This day was a pivotal moment for me because it was the first time I realized that our justice system was flawed.  I left that basement a slightly different version of myself then when I first sat down to hear the verdict.  Naive 15 year old Cappuccino Queen had begun that day thinking, ‘I don’t know why everyone is making such a big deal about this….surely he is going to be convicted of this.  Everyone knows he did that shit.’

After hearing that OJ Simpson would walk free after it seems obvious that he had killed two innocent people, I was rocked to the core.  This was the first time that I realized that the law doesn’t apply to everyone the same way.  Money is power, and that power allowed Simpson to get away with murdering two people.

Though I had learned this important lesson about power, there was still some innocence left and I still felt a sense of safety in our system.  Since 2011, however, I have learned that the Simpson trial was more of a rule than the exception that I had hoped it was.  As an adult, I continue to have emotions of sadness, anger, and fear when I hear stories where justice has clearly been failed.

You have to have been living under a rock if by now you haven’t heard the name Darren Wilson.  In the event that you have been living under a rock, I will briefly explain.  Darren Wilson is the police officer who shot an unarmed 18 year old man named Michael Brown.  Brown’s murder (yes, I still consider it murder even if the officer says he felt threatened) has caused a huge uproar in this country with many people splitting their opinion along racial lines.  In light of what I have learned since my own trust in our system was lost, I want to comment on what I think this incident means for our society.

Not Every American Citizen Is Equal:  Police officers take an oath to “protect and serve”.  This oath, however, doesn’t also mean that you are able to “try, convict, and sentence.”  If a common citizen shot an unarmed man, there would be a trial to determine whether or not the shooter acted in self defense.  Wilson had months to work with his attorney to prepare his chain of events.  Though Brown laid in the street dead for four hours, nobody was able to take pictures of the scene or measure the distance between the officer’s car and Brown’s dead body.  There was, however, enough time (and a working camera) to snap a shot of the small bruise on Wilson’s cheek.

Darren Wilson was not treated as an equal citizen in this situation.  After reading through the testimony that the State chose to release from the Grand Jury (which by the way is not like the open trial a normal citizen would get), Wilson’s story didn’t make sense.  If Wilson had been forced to have a real trial (where the prosecutor was actually representing the victim), he would have been cross examined after making statements like, “When I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding Hulk Hogan…that’s just how big he felt and how small I felt from grasping his arm.”  (Note:  Darren Wilson is 6’4″ tall and 210 pounds.  That is a big ass five year old.)

The day that the Grand Jury came to it’s decision, the State sat on the information for hours while they figured out how to best present this information to the public in a way that didn’t appear as an obvious insult to Justice.  They knew that in a normal trial, all the witnesses would have been able to testify.  Brown would have had character witnesses at a trial who could have testified as to whether he was the type of person to do the things Wilson was accusing him of.  Instead, the Grand Jury was given Wilson’s remorseless version of events.

I am not certain Wilson would have been convicted if he had gone through a trial.  Maybe a jury would still have believed that 6 bullets into an unarmed man wasn’t excessive force.  That said, we will never know because our system killed the opportunity for true justice.

Nobody Wins:  Yesterday I had a long conversation with a police officer that I respect.  While we have very different perspectives on this case, she said something that I think is extremely important when thinking about what this case means for us all.  She said, “it is much easier to put on a stamp, than to take it off.”  She talked about how hard it was for good officers to overcome the image of the bad ones.  Wilson’s decision to use this level of force colored the police force in a way that will negatively impact officers across the country for some time.  His decision killed his career, and it also put his fellow officer’s lives at risk.  It should be of no surprise to anyone when black men (in particular) behave with an extreme fear of police.  Riots have broken out in areas all over the country.  These riots seem to muffle the peaceful protests of those like myself who simply want answers.

 

On January 25, 2012, my ex was arrested for the murder of my son Prince.  If the police officer’s who arrived to arrest him had decided to shoot him that day, I would have been the first person to breath a sigh of relieve and pop the champagne.  That said, I am rational enough to understand that this wouldn’t have brought real justice to my son.  As law abiding citizens, we count on the police to behave with integrity.  We count on the police to respect their role in the process of justice.

Darren Wilson, I don’t believe you.  I don’t believe you didn’t have another option than to kill an unarmed man.  If you joined the police force as a patriot, then you should be ashamed.  You should have remorse for taking the life of a man you could have possibly saved.  Whether or not you believe Brown was a thug should be of no consequence.  If you one day go on to have children, I pray that in those precious moments that you are able to hold your child – that you also have the emotional capacity to think about the Brown’s child, whom you took from this earth.  In that moment, maybe you will finally be able to understand even a fraction of the pain you have caused.

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Brown’s Murder And The Death Of Justice

 

Michael Brown, who was set to begin college in August 2014

Michael Brown, who was set to begin college in August 2014

 

On August 9th, Michael Brown was shot six times, twice in the head by a Ferguson, Mo police officer.  While it has been a couple of weeks since this happened, many heavy emotions continue to rush through me about this incident.  I am stunned, afraid, ashamed, and I have a deep anger burning inside of me that I cannot begin to describe in writing.  I have sat watching the news, at times in complete shock that these events are taking place in my own country.  As a nation, we have a tendency to pass judgment on other nations for the atrocities that occur between their foreign borders.  What occurred in Ferguson, and continues to occur across our pious nation, is something we should all be ashamed of.

Media Spin:

While the media seems to be doing an effective job of covering how peaceful protestors are being gassed and beaten by police officers, they are also making sure to focus on how they believed Michael had been using drugs and had robbed a store. (Note: there has been no definitive evidence that there was a crime committed, and Michael Brown had no prior criminal record.)  Having been a victim of a violent crime (my son being murdered), I am the first person to stand in line to watch criminals be prosecuted.  That said, this officer had no clue that a crime had occurred.  He saw an unarmed black man, and decided to kill him in cold blood.  Even if we were to accept that Michael had done something wrong before he was murdered (which I don’t really believe he did), since when do robbers get sentenced to a firing squad before their trial?  If we are going to start doing things like this as a country, I would kindly ask that we start with murderers and rapists – not a young adult who decided to make the poor choice of stealing a pack of cigarettes.

I would also like to address the fact that the kid had pot in his system.  (And yes, I still think 18 year-olds are kids.)  From reading some of these articles, it would appear as though the media were trying to make references as though the kid was hopped up on crack and acting aggressive.  I have never done any drugs, but from what I know about weed it doesn’t seem as though the kid would have been acting particularly aggressive from having some of it in his system.  Having weed in his system should also not be seen as an excuse to why the kid should have been gunned down.

The Aftermath:

Another disappointing, shocking, and appalling issue that has come up during this tragedy is how many criminals take advantage of bad situations and make them worse.  Store owners in Ferguson didn’t have anything to do with the police officer murdering Michael Brown.  Seeing people rioting in the streets, and ruining businesses in their neighborhood infuriates me.  This sort of behavior is not justified, and will end up hurting the very people that are most impacted by this level of police brutality.

Police Accountability:

Those of you who have followed me from the beginning of my blog know that I have experienced first hand what it’s like to be mistreated by police officers.  Just weeks after I fled an abusive and dangerous man, the police arrested me for removing something I owned from a house that I had been paying for.  After paying thousands of dollars to an attorney to clear my name, I forced a police investigation.  While the Police Captain admitted that his officers had not handled the situation appropriately, or even within their own policies, he refused to hold his officers accountable in any way that would stop the same atrocity from occurring in the future.  I firmly believe that the Prince William County police have a problem with corruption.  I am hopeful that the police officers who allowed my ex (who is now in jail awaiting trial for the murder of my son, and the murder of his ex-girlfriend) to remain a free man, by turning a blind eye to his crimes, will some day be exposed for their unethical behavior.

While some people have chosen to have sympathy for the police officer who shot Michael Brown, I am not one of them.  I believe that the police should be treated as common citizens when they commit crimes.  It is injustice at its worst to see police officers behaving poorly, while obtaining the shield of safety merely because of their badge.  If someone without a badge had murdered Michael Brown, in cold blood, he would be in jail awaiting his trial.

Despite what has happened to me and my family, as a result of police activity, I am not one to believe that all police officers are bad people.  There are many officers who take their oath seriously – people who accept the job to serve and protect.  Criminal police who abuse their power bring shame to the profession.  They also bring shame to our entire justice system.  Police officers are people too, and when they show themselves as criminals – they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Racism remains a problem in America.  Stories like the murder of Treyvon Martin, and now Michael Brown, prove that we still have a long way to go as a country before we can say that we don’t have a race problem.  I am disturbed that in 2014 our police officers are still gunning down unarmed black men in the streets, and trying to justify their actions afterward.

When I saw Michael Brown’s parents on television, my heart ached for them as I looked into their eyes.  I saw the same look that I had in the days after my son was brutally murdered.  I saw sadness, despair, hopelessness, and anger.  I have not taken to the streets in Ferguson, however, I am thankful for the people who have peacefully done so.  I know first hand about how, even when the murderer is held accountable, it doesn’t take away the pain of never being able to hold your son again.

I waited three months before my ex was finally arrested for the murder of my son.  Those three months were arguably the worst three months of my entire life.    Every single day that my son’s killer walked free, I felt as though another piece of me died.  The flame of justice that had burned inside of me was extinguished.  I pray that the Brown’s will get to see the justice that they deserve.  I stand with the thousands of peaceful protestors who are demanding justice – and demanding our system to practice the core of what it is that we as a country preach.