Holding my phone in my hand as I completed the last of my voice text, I saw the flashing lights of the police car directly behind me.
“Motherf***er”, I muttered as I replaced my phone on the hands-free driving cradle and proceeded to pull over, turning on to a side street from the busy main road and flipping on my hazard lights.
As I reached in to my wallet for my driver’s license, with my phone blowing up with text messages, I thought to myself, “I’ll wait until he gets here to get my insurance card from the glove box”.
Instantly he was at my SUV window. A white, unassuming, suburban police officer asking for my identification and if I knew why I had been pulled over. “Because I was having a conversation with my phone in my hand?” I replied, trying not to convey how nervous I was.
“Yes. That’s exactly why I pulled you over. Do you have your insurance card?”
When I explained to him that I would need to go in to the glove box to get it – and that I waited until he got to the car to do so, he responded, “I appreciate that. Although you don’t look that menacing”.
Retrieving it from the glove box, I handed it to him with a smile. He asked politely, “When’s the last time you were pulled over?” “It’s been at least 15 years.” I responded. “Well, I’m sorry to break your streak.” he laughed. “I’m going back to my vehicle and I’ll be back in a minute with a written warning.”
A warning. Not a ticket. As I breathed a sigh of relief and waited for the officer to return, I had a thought run through my head that took my breath away from me.
The ONLY fear I had when I saw the flashing lights behind me was that of inconvenience – money out of my bank account, time out of my busy schedule.
I did not fear for my life.
But what if I looked like Sandra Bland?
What if I wasn’t a blonde, white woman?
Would this exchange have been different?
Would the officer have still told me that I didn’t “look that menacing”?
I did not fear that I would be threatened in any way because of the color of my skin.
I did not fear that I would be mistreated if I stood up for myself.
I did not fear that I would be hauled from my vehicle and beaten in the street.
I did not fear that the face of the officer that appeared in my SUV window would be the last face I would see.
The world that we live in has been torn apart by hate and violence and a disregard for the life of people whose skin color is different from mine. The “pages” of this blog have remained silent on the subject – not because it didn’t affect me. Not because I didn’t care. Because I honestly didn’t know what to say. Because I was afraid that saying anything would be saying the wrong thing and the word “racist” would be thrown at me. Because some look at me as the epitome of “white privilege” and therefore, do I really get to talk on this subject? Because I don’t write and speak as eloquently as some of the powerful and amazing people who I’ve learned about, been introduced to, became friends with, seen speak.
So I’ve stayed silent. But that ends today.
While the interaction with the police today might have been the pebble that opened the flood gates, finding my voice on this topic has been coming for several months. There have been several things that have happened along the way to push me to this place of finding words, eloquent or not, that I need to say.
First, there were two amazing women who didn’t judge me for asking questions and really knew that I was coming from a place of wanting to understand where THEY were standing. Luvvie Ajayi made me feel like it was okay to have a voice. And when I didn’t have the words, she encouraged me to continue to share words from others that moved me. Miss Lori facilitated a conversation on social media one night and she, along with her group of friends, allowed me to ask questions about experiences that as a white woman I have no reference point for in an attempt to understand life more. I am grateful beyond measure for those life-changing lessons.
Then #BlogHer15 just a few weeks ago. The Opening Keynote on Thursday night with ESSENCE Editor-in-chief Vanessa K. De Luca moderating a Black Lives Matter panel with the founders of the movement, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi was incredible. I learned how the movement started, their challenges, and the difference between using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and people who counter that with All Lives Matter.
Here’s a snippet:
To stand in a gigantic ballroom full of strong women and do the chant with Vanessa, Patrisse and Opal brought me to tears. I wasn’t the only one. (The full Keynote discussion can be found on the BlogHer YouTube Channel.)
On Friday night, James Oliver read his Voices of the Year piece, entitled “After Eric Garner, what am I supposed to tell my son?” that moved me to tears. I’m honored that I was there. Please watch:
And today. When I was pulled over by a police officer, I thought of Sandra Bland. A women from my same suburban Chicago town, pulled over for a routine traffic stop that ultimately led to the end of her life.
How does this happen? Why is this our world now? It breaks my heart to see my friends on social media sharing how scared they are for themselves and their children because they aren’t valued as human beings because of the COLOR OF THEIR SKIN.
I know that I’ll never fully understand what that feels like because it’s not my life. It’s not the every day that I live in. I’ll never have those worries for my daughters. I’ll never know the feeling of gripping terror as a parent to watch my children walk out the door and know that they may not come home because of the color of their skin. I don’t want ANY parent to feel that way.
I don’t want this to be my world. To make change, we must stand up.
I have an obligation to share. To talk. To listen. To help where I can. To teach my children different. To vote. To pray.
To remember –
It is our duty to fight for freedom
It is our duty to win
We must love and support one another
We have nothing to lose but our chains