The Crime of Existing While Black
Pretend I wasn't gone for a few weeks trying to get my life together before starting another summer internship!
Instead, let's have a fun talk about race relations that is way overdue.
A few weeks ago two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks for not ordering a drink within two minutes of entering the cafe.
Then a group of black people were arrested in front of their legally purchased AirBnB on suspicion of burglary because, they, "didn't smile or wave," at neighbors.
And then a black grad student at Yale had the police called on her for dozing off while studying in her own dorm building's common area.
If you'll notice, none of these actions are crimes. You won't find any of them on a felony or misdemeanor list. Because what were these people really doing, at the end of the day? They were living their lives like normal people.
The "crime" they committed is simply existing while black.
"Skye you sound soooo dramatic, it wasn't like they went to prison or anything"
Really think about it though.
Instead of approaching this from a potential police brutality angle, instead Id' like to take a historical look at the power structures at play here.
Historically, police officers have been used by white Americans as an exclusionary tool. Historically, the police have been summoned to essentially keep black populations away or under control. This contentious relationship has existed since antebellum slavery and the subsequent reconstruction era (I'm lookin' at you, chain gangs), but it was used very explicitly during the civil rights movement.
In Selma, Alabama, black protesters attempting to assert their right to vote were intimidated, attacked, and berated by police officers who were just doing their jobs according to the laws of the time. People died in those protests just because they wanted the right to vote, a right that, theoretically, should've already been theirs, much like the idea of existing. But it wasn't, primarily because of the notion of citizenship that was denied to black Americans. (Side note: we rarely call them white Americans because it is assumed, even though all their rights should be the same, we still make little distinctions-- African American, Latino American, Asian American, it very clearly relies on who we think true American citizens are.)
More recently, think Ferguson. Think Baltimore. These are black Americans asking to not be murdered by police officers. But they're considered violent rioters, and they were beaten and tear gassed in ways that I find similar to those Selma protests over 50 years ago.
So thinking historically about the tenuous relationship between black Americans and police officers (which aren't mutually exclusive categories), it's very interesting to see the ways in which those dynamics are summoned by Americans (neighbors, baristas, students) in order to again exclude those black Americans and redefine citizenship once again.
White Americans don't get the cops called on them for checking out of an AirBnB. They aren't detained by officers for going to grad school. They don't get murdered for wearing a hoodie at night. Because these actions, as perceived by other white Americans, are normal, every day activities. And they are.
What's my point here?
I'm not entirely sure. Its' one of those topics that disheartens me. I wonder why, knowing the possibilities of what could happen between officers and black Americans, why people would still employ them when no one is breaking the law. And no, I'm not telling people not to call the cops when a robbery happens, or when laws are being broken. But in these cases where a person is nodding off after hours of studying in their own dorm room.... why?
I guess my only advice or takeaway here is to encourage everyone to consider their own biases. Instead of just taking everything at face value and buying into your preconceived notions of people that rely heavily on stereotypes-- take a step back and ask yourself "What am I doing? Why am I doing this? What are the connotations of this action/thought process?"
In other news, I just started an internship at the American Institute of Physics. People have told me already that they've read my blog, to which my first thought is, "Oh, boy."
To be honest, thus far I've been really impressed with the awesome work that this organization is doing to close gender gaps and race gaps in physics and other STEM fields. I feel proud to be an intern here.