I saw him and instinctively froze, my heart beating fast. His demeanor was very casual, he had a smile spreading across his face, and he even resembled me in color: unapologetically black. These characteristics did not stop me in my tracks, but the words boldly printed across his chest did: POLICE. He was an officer, a protector of the law, and my initial reaction was...fear.
As I looked around the car, I realized I was the only one who had had this frightening moment. The other passengers (all people of color) looked unaffected by the presence of the officer, and the driver of the vehicle even went passed the policeman on the road; she didn't look back to see if he would pull her over. An unprecedented act for any person of color in the United States. When I asked everyone why they were so nonchalant, the simplicity astonished me. Someone uneasily said, " This isn't America you know, you don't have to be scared of them here." It dawned on me that I was in Trinidad. Police aren't feared like in the States. The statement was followed up by a question. "Why would we be scared when we weren't doing anything wrong?"
Great question. Why was I scared? Could it be the ongoing genocide of African Americans in the United States of America? Possibly.
Just as prey live in fear of their predator, similar to the Jewish living in terror because of Nazi officials, African Americans generally live horrified at the sight of police. The difference is that while the identifying marker for Jews was a badge in Nazi Germany, they were able to take it off at the end of the day. It was a badge they could look in their closet and see. One they could store away, not having to deal with it until leaving their home. For an African Americans to find their marker they don't need to look in a closet, they just have to look in the mirror. Their skin is not stored anywhere except on their body. In the "land of the free" the wrong skin color is enough reason to compel an authority figure to insensibly fire bullets in your direction.
Lightbulb moment: I've been conditioned to fear those appointed to protect me.
As a black person, you don't wake up in the morning and choose to put your skin on. You don't need to alter your clothes for people to know that you're black. You don't even need to speak for people to know that you're black. You don't need to do anything, because you were born black. You can't remove your skin color, nor should you want to.
You are not the problem. Your skin is not the problem. You should not have to fear for your life. You should not have to explain injustice to your child. The color you were endowed is not threatening. But in America you are, it is, you do, you are, it is.
The system was not built for your success, it was built for your failure. SUCCEED ANYWAYS. The unjust killings, the systemic demise of African Americans, and the justice system are the problems. The solutions are complex, but in the efforts to create sustainable change, one thing is evident: we need to be united. There is power in numbers. Revolutions start with one person, a couple of people, but real change is seen when the masses gather.
It's unfortunate that it struck me as odd that many people of color around the world don't fear the police. I'm not saying they don't get tickets, fines or pulled over; I'm saying that their interactions with policemen are justifiable, regardless of color. That isn't the case in the States. For the first time in my life I feel that where I live is the third world country, and not the places I am traveling to.
The world is a scary place on its own without genocide, racism or police killings. There is no reason that present day America should feel like Nazi Germany. If you want to "Make America Great Again" (even though it's never really been that great), why not start with ending the senseless killings of the second largest demographic in the country.
This is usually where I ask you to leave a comment. Don't bother this time. I said what it was.