While I was growing up, racial prejudice was vague and distant, something we usually talked about in social studies class around February.
I grew up in Johnson County in the ’90s and ’00s when the suburban giant was even less diverse than it is now. I attended a private Christian school through eighth grade, and didn’t closely experience diversity until I attended a public high school.
My knowledge of other cultures, lifestyles and ethnic groups was limited to the media and word of mouth. Over time, I have learned slowly and painfully that it is convenient for white Americans to overlook the nuanced privileges enjoyed by virtue of skin color.
The murder of Trayvon Martin is another reminder of this. I didn’t learn of his killing until I saw Facebook posts several weeks ago. Although it occurred Feb. 26, it wasn’t until mid-March that its mainstream media coverage invoked public ire. (Compare that to stories of missing white girls from the suburbs that gain national press overnight.)
Details of the unarmed Florida teenager’s murder by neighborhood “watchdog” George Zimmerman are little different from textbook narratives of innocent black murder victims profiled for ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
A lot of attention has been given to Trayvon’s murder, as it should be. However, I believe the attention shouldn’t be on the arrest and prosecution of the man who killed him, but on the social injustices of a racially-nuanced society where hate crime tragedies are a more common occurrence than many can comfortably choose to acknowledge.
One positive outcome is that the recent-but-late media attention has removed the veil of feigned political correctness and revealed the open wounds of America’s volatile race relations.
Given my background, I don’t have to worry about being thought of as suspicious by virtue of walking through a stranger’s neighborhood.
I don’t have to worry about sales associates carefully eyeing my every move when I set foot in a department store, or about being denied a job interview because my name doesn’t fit the hiring manager’s profile of an ideal applicant.
I have received my fair share of traffic tickets, but have never felt bullied, intimidated or singled out by law enforcement.
Of all my police encounters, one stands out in particular. After viewing a house near 59th and Paseo when a drive-by shooting occurred nearby, my car was misidentified as the suspect’s vehicle.
Police cruisers barricaded the street. A group of white officers, guns drawn, ordered me out of my vehicle and frisked me while they searched the car for a gun.
They found none, and I was off in no time. My initial reaction was anger, humiliation and shock.
As my onset emotions faded, I began to realize how the looks on the officers’ faces changed very quickly as I rolled down my car window and extended my hands.
The dark, tinted windows made it difficult to see inside.
Although standard procedure was followed, I could tell that no officer seriously suspected I was the shooter. I believe the change in the officers’ facial expressions is an everyday example of nuanced white privilege and malignant stereotypes of black men as criminals.
In retrospect, I question if the police encounter would have ended so breezily had I been an innocent African-American male from the neighborhood surrounding 59th and Paseo. I doubt it.