There are people, white and black and otherwise, who will read this blog post and automatically dismiss it. Some might even say it's not my place. I cannot do anything about them. All I can do is tell my story, and maybe someone will understand. Nowhere in here do I mean to shirk my privilege or put myself outside the broad stroke of “white people”. When I say “white people”, I am including myself in that statement. I don’t dig labels. Never have. But the rest of the world does. So, yes, I am White People. But I have a little more, just a tad more, experience dealing with systemic racism, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Because the biggest problems with white people are fear and disbelief. “There is no problem,” they say. “It’s blown out of proportion by the media, by race-baiters.” Nope. You’re wrong. I’ve seen systemic racism firsthand. And, while there is a problem with today’s media, scared white men shooting black men is a problem that needs to be addressed.
I moved to Troy, Alabama, in 1996. I started working for the Burger King on Highway 231. That’s where I met the man whom I would, almost twenty years later, name my son after. My buddy’s name is Christopher McCord. He’s a black man. That didn’t matter to me then. It doesn’t matter to me now. But, in this story, his race does matter.
Though we came from much different backgrounds—he from Birmingham, Alabama, and I from southern California—we shared a love for music. All kinds of music, man. Metal, classic rock, R&B, hip hop, even a country song or two. We’d roll through Troy in his Dodge Daytona, a car by the name of Rudy, blasting everything from Bone Thugs & Harmony to Matchbox 20. And I mean blasting. Chris had a killer sound system. Not one of those bullshit rattleboxes. He dressed Rudy to the nines. Only the best. We spent a lot of time inside that car and on my back porch. Chris was there for me during some rough times, and he remains the only friend I have who remembers the waste of life that was my father. Chris soon became my brother in every sense of the term other than blood. I would do anything for the guy.
One night in 1997—this was late, probably almost midnight, if not after—Chris pulled into the old Walmart parking lot on 231. He killed Rudy’s Engine and we sat listening to a Bone Thugs album. Chris was laughing at me trying to skip over singing the N-word and still keep up with the rapid-fire lyrics. We were having a good time. We were not hurting anyone. There were no posted signs. Nothing to tell us the parking lot was off limits, because it wasn’t. There were two semi trucks parked off on the other side of the lot with their running lights going. Truckers trying to catch some sleep.
I’m not sure how long we were there, but soon enough the cop cars showed up. I know you know it’s coming, so we’ll jump right into it. Three cop cars, four cops, all for a Dodge Daytona sitting in the middle of an open, all-but-empty parking lot. We were, of course, either having sex or doing drugs. I’m sure these officers thought that anyway. Hell, maybe we were having sex AND doing drugs! I jest, but my point is, I know why they stopped. It’s how they reacted to Chris and then me that changed the way I saw things.
Chris got out, revealed himself to be black, and the cops lost their shit.
“Put your hands up! Don’t move!”
First, which is it? Which one was he supposed to follow? “Put your hands up!” or “Don’t move!”? Given those commands, which one would you do?
Next thing I heard was one of the cops tell Chris, “Lemme see your ID.”
The cops, all four white, didn’t know the race of the other person in the car. Namely, me. The cruisers were parked behind us and Rudy’s back window was tinted. And, as I’ve said, it was dark. They could obviously see me moving around inside, but there was no way they could’ve seen I was white. Thinking we were in some serious trouble, I got out of the car to try and help explain why we were here and what we were doing.
I popped the door open and I might as well have drawn a gun. Shouts and barks for me to stay in the car or stay where I was exploded all around me. But I was already pulling myself out. Besides, these were cops. They weren’t going to shoot me for no reason. That doesn’t happen. Right?
Well, they didn’t shoot. But I’ll never forget the change in those officers’ demeanors when they saw who, or more importantly what, I was.
Three of the four officers visibly deflated when they saw me. They couldn’t see my hands, only my face over the top of the car. They relaxed completely. Even took on jovial joking tones. The questions were then directed at me, the passenger.
“Why’re you guys out here?”
I told them and they relaxed even more.
Not one of them asked me for my ID. I’m four years younger than Chris. I was 17 at the time this happened. But not one of them asked me for my ID. But I’ve always looked young. At my best, I could’ve passed for fifteen. Now, you can say that they didn’t ask for my ID because I wasn’t behind the wheel, but that doesn’t change what I saw.
I saw three men who were scared to death of Chris and were not the least intimidated by me. I saw three men on the verge of violence solely because of the personal appearance and not the actions of the person they were faced with. Chris didn’t make any sudden moves. He didn’t pose any threat. He sure didn’t argue with them. But they were still terrified of him. Of him. Not me.
Before that night, you might have made me believe that the recent rise in black men being shot and killed by police was something trumped up by media outlets. But the truth is, my fellow white people, is that the media didn’t used to focus on this. It’s always happened: scared white men, who’re scared for no other reason than they’ve been taught that black men are vicious animals, putting down what they perceive to be vicious animals. And when it did hit the news, white people would say, “They must’ve done something to deserve it.” Even now, just a few days ago, a black man with a conceal and carry permit was shot to death after following instructions. Those instructions being, “Show me your permit.” Philando Castile, a man who was just following orders, was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and her daughter while reaching for the permit the officer asked for. Why? Because of a scared white man.
I firmly believe that the only reason that Chris went home unscathed that night was because I was there. Hell, two days later, when I went back to work, all of Chris’s friends came up to me and thanked me for being there. All I did was be white at the right time, and here I was, a hero. That’s crazy. If I hadn’t been there, I would not have believed it. Had you seen the way those officers’ faces changed when they saw that Chris the Scary Black Man had Edward the Safe White Person with them, you might understand instead of fearing and disbelieving. But seeing is believing. You just have to open your eyes.
All I can ask is that you do not dismiss this. White people do not talk about our roles in systemic racism enough. The way we act and react when faced with these tragedies speaks volumes. Silence is a reaction, and it's not the right one. I don't know how to fix this, but I'll continue to educate myself.
Take care of each other,