I have been affected by racism. Not because I am a biracial woman living in America, but because I am an American. I was raised by my white, green eyed, Irish Mama in a predominately white community. Most of my friends were white, our neighbors were white, my teachers and doctors were all white. I was often the "only" brown skinned friend in my friend group, student in my classrooms, cheerleader on my cheer team. I was commonly told by my white world, Oh Lori, I don't even think of you as black, which as a young person didn't sound mean. In fact, the spirit in which it was said sounded almost like a compliment. Except the compliment felt like a sucker punch to my gut. But without understanding what was happening, I winced and said something poignant like, uh ok. Even though my closest friend group didn't see me as black, the police officers who approached my friend's car, guns drawn - they saw us as black.
My black male friend and I had pulled over to the side of the road to switch out the music CD we were listening to (hello 1990's). He had a particular song he wanted to listen to so he pulled over to the side of the road in search of the CD. The car was running but in park. A few minutes into our CD search a police car did a u-turn and pulled up behind the car, lights flashing. Without discussing it, we both looked at each other, nodded and reacted the way his black father taught him and the way my black pops taught me. In that momentary silent look, this is what we said to each other: Shit. Be cool. Quick, turn off the car and put the keys on the dash. Eyes forward. Hands where they can see them and remember, yes sir, no sir. To be honest, when my dad passed along this - you're a black person in America life lesson, I am certain it was met with a teenage angsty eye roll. But in that moment, as I watched two police officers approach the car with their guns drawn through the side mirror, I remembered every word. The officers approached the car as if we were guilty of a crime. My friend asked permission before moving his hands from the dashboard to reach into the glove compartment to retrieve his car registration. He asked again if he could reach over to the cupholder to retrieve his wallet. The officer on my side clinked his gun on my window and yelled at me to show him my license. I, too, asked for permission to retrieve it. Not satisfied with our explanation of why were were pulled over on the side of the road, the officers yelled at us to get out of the car. We slowly got out with our hands visible and they put us both against the car and frisked us. My friend and I just looked at each other across the roof of the car, scared, sad, scared, angry. Not scared because we had done anything wrong and were about to be caught - but scared because we knew these police officers were looking for trouble. My police officer took his sweet time frisking me, sadly I was wearing a dress (thanks #metoo). After about five minutes of incessant questions, leude comments, and dramatically clutching their guns, the officers told us to stay out of trouble, got back into their police car and drove away leaving us traumatized.
Here's the thing. I didn't run home and tell my family or even mention this incident to my friends. I didn't cry about it in therapy or pray about it in church. We left that scene in silence and didn't talk about it because nobody would have responded in a way to make it not happen. Even now I can hear the phantom responses that include words like bad apples and oh Lori.
I share this because I firmly believe we are all affected by racism in America. I am committed to modeling values of justice and equity and helping those who are committed to educating themselves to ensure they have a personal plan to uphold antiracist values like kindness, compassion, equality, and justice. I am currently facilitating conversations to help people identify the gap between who I think I am and who I actually am in relation to the current climate. As an educator and change consultant in my professional life, I am all too familiar with the immediacy to fix what’s broken and the eventual fatigue that quickly follows from the constant hard work which is required for real change to take hold.
These facilitated conversations within friends, churches, businesses are not about past shame or white privilege or even powerlessness. These conversations provides an opportunity to take an honest look at our own shortcomings - the possibility that we may be contributing to the problem, even in a small way. Although this is a we problem, change has to start with the individual. Me!
Lori Ann Dinkins
One blog at a time, I write the truth about my life as it is, as I hope it will be, as I wish it would have been. Business insights and personal triumphs. Thank you for joining me.