With the recent murder of black men, and the murder of white police officers, the inevitable happened.
A white female colleague wanted to “discuss” it.
Initially, I was happy that someone had brought it up, happy that someone wanted to talk about it. After all, I am part of a staff that is truly diverse. This staff is probably the most diverse I’ve ever worked with. The people here are of almost every age, race, religion and ethnic background in the world. We have black Americans, white Americans, Pakistani Americans, Mexican Americans, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Buddhists. Here, most of the world is represented.
The first question I got from this colleague was: Is there really that much discrimination against African Americans? How?
Well this particular colleague has worked in remote areas of the Middle East, so I drew a parallel between her experiences there, and my experiences here. In the Middle East, she was an outsider. She was pointed at, stared at, treated differently, treated worse, and sometimes treated better. She was touched indiscriminately by men, taunted by children, and isolated by the majority. She was living, in many ways, the same way a black person lives in America.
She recounted how uncomfortable that felt. How it felt horrible to stand out all of the time, to be noticed all of the time, to never feel invisible and never feel included. I told her that’s just how it feels to be black in America.
She still didn’t get it, or didn’t want to get it.
She insisted that everyone is uncomfortable now; how she is afraid that a black person might just pull out a gun and shoot her because she’s white. She insisted that no one is safe and that everyone is on edge.
I told her that I fear for myself, my children, my brothers and nephews. I fear for their lives. I have feared for their lives for a long time now. I told her how I’ve been called a nigger, how an Arkansas cop once threatened my life, and informed me that in Arkansas “no one will ever find your body.”
She couldn’t process that.
She insisted that I didn’t get what she was saying. That I didn’t understand how she now feels that her life is at stake.
Now, on reflection, I think she wanted me to understand how important it is that everyone now feels threatened.
Somehow, I don’t feel that the lives of others are more, or less, important than those of my family. Somehow, and for some remote reason, I don’t feel any more panic today than I felt two weeks ago. Somehow, today, I still believe that given a set of similar circumstances, she is more likely to live through a stop by the police than I am.
If “people in general” are feeling threatened, feeling panic, and feeling unsafe in America. Welcome to my world. I have never been safe in my home. I can only hope that someday, somehow, I will.