During the course of our conversation, he was pulled over by an officer who said he looked like an escapee from Pelican Bay State Prison in California...My brother told me he would call me right back. In the minutes I waited, my chest tightened. I worried. I stared at my phone. When he called back... He joked: “I thought it was my time. I thought ‘this is it.’ ” He went on with his day because this is a quotidian experience for black people who dare to drive.
Each time I get in my car, I make sure I have my license, registration and insurance cards. I make sure my seatbelt is fastened. I place my cellphone in the handless dock. I check and double check and triple check these details because when (not if) I get pulled over, I want there to be no doubt that I am following the letter of the law. I do this knowing it doesn’t really matter if I am following the letter of the law or not. Law enforcement officers see only the color of my skin, and in the color of my skin they see criminality, deviance, a lack of humanity...
As a larger, very tall woman, I am sometimes mistaken for a man. I don’t want to be “accidentally” killed for being a black man. I hate that such a thought even crosses my mind. This is the reality of living in this black body. This is my reality of black womanhood, living in a world where I am stripped of my femininity and humanity because of my unruly black body."
The above was an excerpt written by author Roxane Gay from her Op Ed piece in last Saturday’s New York Times. The subject of Ms. Gay’s article was the death two weeks ago of Sandra Bland, the young black woman who was pulled over by a Texas state trooper for failure to use a turn signal and who, for arguing with the trooper, was threatened with a taser, pushed to the ground, kneed in the back, and thrown into jail on $5,000 bail. Three days later Sandra Bland committed suicide in her jail cell.
Reading Ms. Gay’s editorial hurt my heart. Because all I can think about is what if one of my daughters were pulled over for a nothing of a traffic violation, roughed up, physically hurt and put in jail? What if my son were pulled over one day on his way to work and accused of being a criminal and scared to within an inch of his life? What if it were one of my daughters who was afraid each time she got into her car that she might be stopped by the police and mistreated? What if it were my daughter who feared that because she was larger and taller than most women she might one day be mistaken for a man by a police officer and shot?
And what if my children, college educated professionals just as Roxane Gay and her brother are and as Sandra Bland was, went through life feeling themselves in the sights of law enforcement officers who see in them only, in Ms Gay's words, "criminality, deviance, a lack of humanity".
And what if I, their mother, were helpless to protect them or calm their fears because I lived under the same specter of potential humiliation and danger as my children?
All my "what if's" are facts of life for African American mothers.
But what can a 63-year-old white woman whose heart aches for her black sisters and their children do about it?