I don’t want to talk race with a kid who isn’t my child or student, but she has been taught that it’s ok for her to talk it to me. I can’t even chill out in the sauna without this kind of bullshit following me.
“I hear black people are in danger.” I look up and see a young girl gazing at me in earnest. She can’t be more than four years old. Petite, like so many girl children seem to be, she stands before me, white with blond hair. I’m sitting in the sauna minding my business reading a novel that just, in the last ten pages, has turned sad. I’ve had a hard day of dealing with disappointment at my job, hurt feelings in my relationships and the sting of racism and colonialism in both arenas.
I realized today, and I am late with this, that the majority-Hispanic state that I live in is run at the executive government and business level like a colonialist’s fantasy. This after hours of meetings in which I saw how equipped, passionate and accountable the “brown majority” community was and how completely inept, outdated and unaccountable the white minority that is in charge seems to be. These two meetings covered the same topics and were worlds apart–the executive staff knew near nothing about the terminology or implementation of the topic being discussed, health care, and the browner community-based group knew everything but completely lacked access and power. And now this.
Now this 4-year-old blond girl is interrupting my adult end-of-the-day-decompress sauna to tell me that she heard black people are in danger. She fumbles in front of me, waiting for an answer.
“What did you say?” asks her father.
“I heard black people, I heard black people are bad, you know, what you and mom say, I heard black people are in danger.”
I look at her father briefly, very briefly, because I don’t need to be in or have this conversation with his daughter, he does. I put my head down, refocus on my book. I don’t want any part of this. But I get involved. The father is tall, kind of skinny, bald. He could be a cracker or a liberal, makes no difference to me. He’s trying to get her to say what she means. I tune out again, back into my book. I’m uncomfortable. This whole situation sucks.
I’ve spent the last seven days writing about police brutality for the first non-memoir piece I was hoping to publish. I focused on a woman victim of state violence who was shot at by police just under 18 months ago when fleeing from police as she resisted an alleged traffic stop. The officer who pulled her over said she was driving close to 16 miles over the speed limit. When she received the citation she would not sign it thereby agreeing to pay a fine or appear in court. The botched traffic stop escalates, her behavior and his, and although she is never violent it ends with police battering the minivan window where her children sit and shooting at her car as she flees in horror.
This is is the kind of thing I have to deal with on a regular basis. I don’t want to talk race with a kid who isn’t my child or student, but she has been taught that it’s ok for her to talk it to me. I can’t even chill out in the sauna without this kind of bullshit following me.
The police brutality story is what I wanted to write about, it wasn’t assigned, I picked the topic. I am 42 years old and for as long as I can remember I’ve been thinking about police brutality against black people. Now I think about it in broader terms; against immigrants, against women, against people who won’t comply.
This feels violent, this assault on my privacy, this child’s persistence, this dad’s unapologetic behavior when his daughter approaches me. These are the unexpected nuances of racism that I would rather do without. I put my head back into my book and hope that they will just go away. It feels uncomfortable. But I can’t think of what else to do. I don’t want or need to educate this man or child. I want them to get out of my space, which eventually they do, and the father never apologizes. I feel like a bird shit on me but without the lucky part.
These ways of interacting are so uncool. The idea that kids can say anything to anyone because they are kids is something that doesn’t actually make sense or build community. While “kids (do) say the darnedest things” it doesn’t mean that they are always charming.
I am a black woman and I don’t feel anything good hearing what white parents are telling their children about black people. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to help it. I want it to stop. I want brutality to stop too. I want people to be able to resist police behavior non-violently and not be responded to with violence.
I read about Miriam Carey this week who drove past a kiosk into the wrong lot at the White House in October 2013, complied with the order to turn her vehicle around, attempted to exit after turning around, resisted detention by a plain clothes agent while trying to exit and was pursued by law enforcement agents and fatally, purposefully gunned down with her one year old in the car. I want that to stop.
I read about Jeanette Anaya who was pulled over for an alleged traffic violation, that the police dash-cam later could not substantiate, who resisted the officers approach by backing up and pulling off. He shot at her car 16 times and killed her. I want that to stop.
And the mother of five who I mentioned before. The state supreme court dropped her case but the state refiled. That kind of behavior from police. I want that to stop too.
But in the sauna, I drop my head into my book and focus on each sentence until that obnoxious family leaves. Sometimes I just want to take a break because that’s the only way I’ll have enough energy to do my small part in stopping any of it.