I Was Afraid Even Though I Knew Better – Confronting Irrational Fear of Black People.
The subject of racial bias is huge right now in America and this post is for every person who thinks they are not prejudiced and for everyone who does not understand the police shootings of black people based on irrational fear or the very real fear that black people have of being shot. It is not usually that cops go about wanting to kill people, although that can happen. It is usually that white – and sometimes even black – cops respond irrationally out of a conditioned fear/suspicion of black citizens – and someone dies.
So let me tell you a story about me because this tragic situation won’t stop until white people like me talk about our racial bias.
I was in Washington DC that evening, 13 years ago. I am a white woman, then in my early sixties. It had been dark for hours already. First some background…
In my twenties, I was a Parole Officer and without fear walked alone through poor neighborhoods in Oakland and San Francisco to meet with my parolees – Black, White, Latino – and even to arrest them at times – by myself – and take them to jail. During those years also of the Civil Rights movement, though I didn’t travel South to put my life on the line for equality, my heart was there and I have been an avid supporter my whole life.
In my thirties, I lived in a mixed-race commune; many of my most honored friends and many of our most honored leaders were black. I lived for a time in downtown Oakland California, before gentrification. I walked through the ghetto without fear, even though I may be the only white person in sight, smiling and greeting folks as I walked because that is polite in black culture.
Of course, I thought I was not racially prejudiced, though in the ghetto I was consciously aware that I feared the black citizens (in the 1970’s) might hate me for being white.
Life proceeded and in my fifties, I fell in love with a black man and we have been together for over 20 years now. I joined the immigrant rights movement here in Arizona where I now live. I mention all this in my background. I am and was a liberal, awake activist and part of a mixed-race family. If I was biased, I thought it was in the direction of feeling more drawn to people of color.
On the day in question, I was in Washington DC for a peace march and to lobby Congress, staying with his (black of course) brother and his wife. I was driving their car and had gotten off the freeway because I was lost. I found myself in a neighborhood with a lot of black teens in the street and suddenly I realized I was afraid – of them! I kept driving and found myself at a dead end under a freeway bridge, shaking.
I realized OMG – I AM prejudiced after all. I tried to justify it, but there was NO RATIONAL REASON for my fear. I have felt shame about that reaction ever since but I share it today so we can all better look at our irrational biases.
Prejudice – it means irrational pre-judging the person based before you from subconscious pre-programming. Subconscious means you are NOT AWARE of it and that means it can rear its ugly head without warning in a tense situation.
I took myself to task and turned the car around and stopped and asked the young people for directions which they gladly gave. But I was shaken to my core to know about my bias.
I hope you will consider the Black Lives Matter movement from my point of view. My beloved, or our son could be shot and killed simply because of an irrational fear similar to mine that evening, that pops up unexpectedly in some officer trying to do his job on a day he is tired, stressed, or angry with his spouse.
We must support our law enforcement officers and our citizens, to ALL confront irrational unconscious suspicion in ourselves and END THE KILLING.