Take a walk with me down the yellow brick road to ‘What If…”
It’s a hard road to maneuver because we aren’t certain where it will lead, who will be traveling with us, and how long it will take. But, relax, and let’s explore this trek together.
What if we have the same names as we have in real life, the same innate abilities and intelligence.
What if we lived down the street from one another and went to school together?
What if we both attended state universities?
What if I was Black and you were White?
What if you were Black and I was White.
How would our lives be different?
If I was Black would we be friends? Would you look at me differently? Would you believe I was dangerous? Would you think I was smart? Would you respect me?
And how would I feel about you if you were Black?
Would I have played with you as a child? Would we be best friends in high school? Would I invite you to my house for supper? Would I recognize and appreciate your talents? Would I believe you? Would I be afraid of you? Would we be friends?
These ‘what ifs’ have puzzled me for many years, wondering how different my life would have been if I had been born Black. If all else in my life was the same except for the color of my skin, would I have had the same opportunities? Would I have been hired for the jobs I’ve held? Would I have been regarded the same as a Black as I was as a White person?
I’ll never know the true answer to these questions, but I have a feeling my life would have been very different. I would be feeling angry, distrustful, resentful and discouraged if I was Black. I’d notice the unspoken limitations placed in my path. I’d see the distrust and wariness in the eyes of Whites when they looked at me. I’d notice the subtle, and perhaps not so subtle, gestures, comments and expectations leveled my way, and the exclusions I face.
I would be angry.
How would you feel if you were born Black?
Would you be afraid, and if so, of what?
Would you be mad? Why?
Would you be married to the same person?
Would your life be unchanged? What would be different?
There is unfairness between the races, like it or not. As Whites we have been given privileges because of our whiteness not offered to people of color, advantages we have never thought about or admitted. But once we see ourselves cloaked in color, we can begin to get a glimpse of those inequities. As Whites, we usually fail to acknowledge how we have exploited the privileges we have inherited due to our color.
If I were Margo Johnson with my same qualities but my skin was Black, I would be angry and afraid. My fear would be based on the fact Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than White people. Police kill more Whites annually than Blacks, but percentage wise more Blacks die at the hands of law enforcement than their White counterparts.
Let me be clear, I’m not against the police, nor do I want to abolish police departments, but I do think we have an issue about the way many police officers react to incidents with Blacks vs. Whites.
Data from Mapping Police Violence (https://policeviolencereport.org) for the past year shows Black people account for 27% percent of the deaths by police, despite making up 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau. Police killings of White victims made up 48 percent of the total deaths while being 65 percent of the population.
The report shows 1,127 people were killed by police in the United States in 2020. 96% were killed by police shootings, and most killings began with police responding to suspected non-violent offences or cases where no crime was reported. 121 people were killed after police stopped them for a traffic violation.
80 people killed by police were unarmed, and most of those were people of color.
So the question is why this disparity? My belief is white society has been told to be fearful of Black people, to think of them as ignorant and dangerous. We all have prejudices, and as much as I think of myself as unprejudiced, I know that is not true. The reality the past year has exposed in me are the many messages through the years I’ve absorbed from parents, friends, educators, media, and the list goes on. My job is to recognize those biases, admit to them, and attempt to change the unfairness those views have instilled in me.
So, yes, I would be afraid if I was Black.