When I was in elementary school, my parents, a mixed white and Korean American couple, purchased the house they still live in today. It is a sweet little house, perfect for our growing family and the nicest house we could afford on our budget.
During the home search process, the realtor discouraged my parents from getting the house. Why? Because it is situated in a majorly black and brown neighborhood.
My parents basically told the realtor to shove it and instead, chose to create a home for us there.
Shortly after moving into the area, I was invited to a neighborhood cookout. I was one of the oldest kids and naturally assumed a motherly, protective role over the other kids. One day, as I played with the other kids, a couple of cops drove by, very slowly. I noticed them and assumed they were just driving by to make sure everything was alright. I assumed they were on our side since we weren’t doing anything wrong. But the black toddler I held in my arms and her young friends immediately burst into tears and went running towards their families. The look of fear on their faces stuck with me to this day.
This was my first realization that there were differences in the way black and brown people versus white people and certain light skinned Asians experience the police. This wasn’t something my little friend was brainwashed into thinking. It wasn’t something she was taught by adults. This is something that as a baby, she saw with her own eyes. She was an innocent– but that didn’t matter. Experience had shown her that the police brought chaos, destruction, fear.
The above happened long before the existence of Black Lives Matter and hashtags dedicated to murdered black bodies. I’m in my thirties now, yet such stories are not new.
In college, I took a course that required the students to complete an implicit racial bias test. It was a test to determine our split second bias to associate black versus European features with good or bad connotations. All, but two in the class showed varying degrees of implicit bias, with preference for light features, and a negative association with black faces. Even the majority of the black and brown people in the class, including myself, demonstrated implicit racial bias.
We analyzed our results and talked about the impact of language on our choices…“darkness” is bad, “light” is good/pure. We talked about the influences of Hollywood and music and books. We talked about the influences of media and history.
Then we talked about the way the brain works. How it takes information it receives and categorizes it in order to make good decisions in the future; how it provides us with an automatic response to new information; and how our brains are wired to respond based on experience or information that was directly or indirectly fed to it.
However, what we DO with that split second signal our brain gives us is a matter of personal choice. We can either subject our choice to a critical and unbiased WHY analysis, or we can go with the prejudiced values that most of us have been taught– to judge and treat a person negatively because of racial bias. We can only elude the latter through self-awareness based on facts.
- Implicit racial bias is real because racism in America is insidious, pervasive and is in the very air we breathe. It doesn’t matter if equality is one of your values. Chances are you have racial bias that you may not have created or cultivated, but that you as a white person and/or non-black or brown person of color are absolutely responsible for. Therefore, you must be honestly assess yourself and your attitudes and then adjust assumptions and actions accordingly.
- Your experience is not a black or brown person’s experience. Black and brown people have a valid reason to fear cops. Cops are more likely to use unnecessary force and to kill black and brown people.
This is why white people calling the cops on black people is a problem. You might find the police helpful, and therefore believe calling them would deescalate or resolve imagined danger. But guess what? Police – even the “good cops” – have implicit bias too, and too often, this results in situations that end horribly for black and brown people.
While your personal bias may make you trigger happy with the 911 number, it is important to remember that the police are armed with GUNS which have the ability to end lives and that when their bias makes them trigger happy, it could cost black and brown bodies their very life.
Therefore, recognize, White people…
…when you call the cops on a person of color, you are not only inconveniencing them, you could also be endangering their lives, so
…don’t justify your making decisions based on your implicit bias, and
…don’t use your tears to presuppose you as the victim even when the person you called the cops on is innocent,
…learn to see the situation through your neighbors eyes
…believe black and brown people
…check yourself before you put the brothers and sisters you are called to treat as neighbors in harm’s way.
…check your racist assumptions before you pick up the phone
…instead of calling the police, call out implicit and explicit racial bias in yourselves and others, INCLUDING the police
…look at your white/non-black non-brown faces honestly in the mirror and start with the issues there.
And who knows, perhaps the fewer times police respond to the calls of scared and trigger happy white people, the fewer experiences they will have with black people as ‘criminals,’ and the more hope they would have of overcoming their own bias.
Existing while black is neither a crime nor a threat, but unchecked bias will result in injustice towards black and brown people and even cost them their lives.
Our black and brown neighbors’ dignity and lives are at stake if we don’t start THINKING and become willing to humbly acknowledge our prejudices before we act.
Elizabeth Quashie is one of the regional vice presidents and social media editor (Twitter, Instagram & Facebook) for CBE-Voices of Color Chapter. She is a missionary who has spent nine years working with organizations to address gender-based violence in the Caribbeans, South America, the Middle East, and Eastern and South East Asia. As a biracial Asian American woman, she is passionate about witnessing women embrace the fullness of the freedom and power they have in Christ. She currently lives in South Korea with her Haitian-Ghanaian spouse Marc and their mixed corgi Mr. Chi. To reach her, email email@example.com. You can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram and her blog With Her Heart: Holding Space for Wounded Healers