Racial Profiling, Stereotypes & Self-Preservation
Sometimes I get emotional thinking about where my husband could’ve ended up…where he could still end up. We once lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Not many people know of it, but it was a place where I stayed up late nights to be sure my husband came home. We lived in a town where Black men were forced to live in the streets…many homeless and jobless. They were a constant “problem” for the city…a constant outlet for local spite and antagonism (much like the Native population here in Sioux Falls, SD). The police officers would often frequent the bus station to harass “vagrants” and once were even caught on film brutalizing a special needs teen who they arrested for quote, “spitting on the ground”.
This wasn’t a first for Kalamazoo and I’m sure it isn’t their last. It’s just one of the incidents we watched unfold while living there.
Each night I waited up for my husband to return home from work. I never felt safe with him on the roads. I never felt that I could rest easy knowing that he was a good man and that nothing could happen to him. You can’t take these things for granted. You can’t be sure that your husband won’t be profiled…that one officer’s mistake won’t put him in jeopardy.
Even in cities that can seem safe, you never really know. You never know who is lurking. Who might see him as an easy target or mistake him for another brown man. They all look alike you know.
This wasn’t the first time.
I remember in Muskegon, my husband was pulled over for ‘looking Mexican’.
“Get out of the car,” the officer instructed, and he asked him to spread his legs and submit to a search. He put his hand on his holster as if to say, ‘Cooperate, or else you’ll have trouble’.
The officer ran my husband’s license and ignored my pleas for an explanation. He didn’t explain why my husband was cuffed and sitting in the back of his car while scanning his license.
When he came back to the car with my husband…an innocent man…I asked him why we were stopped.
“Your tail light’s out. Get it fixed or next time I’ll have to ticket you for it.”
“And why was my husband searched? Why did you run his license?” I asked him.
“Ma’am,” he adds, as if there’s no need for me to question him, “He fits the description of some people we’re looking for. There are a couple of Mexicans in this area and we have to check everyone.”
Hmmm…everyone? I wonder. And how he could see “Mexicans” in the middle of the night, I have no idea…but I guess they have a radar for brown.
I’m just glad nothing crazy happened…but is that enough? Sometimes I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t know what we’re all supposed to do about these stories.
Being complacent means you’ve made it through another day…but it also means that you didn’t fight for your right. But then, how can you fight in a society that withholds power? A society where those in authority most often look nothing like you and don’t see you through the same lens as one of their own.
I wonder about this a lot. How much do you fight and how much do you just worry about surviving?
I want my husband to be a fighter, but can I really expect this of him? For him it’s an uphill battle…a constant battle. For him it means heavy consequences and social shaming. It means being called out for playing the “race card”. It can severely disadvantage him at work. It can provoke hostility and police brutality.
I’m glad he does speak out, but he chooses his battles carefully because there is no guarantee of the outcome. This is what it is to be a brown man in the world. Too many times, you have to make a choice between your dignity and your peace of mind.
Yes, you can speak out…but will it limit your safety? Your success? Will it put your future in jeopardy?
These are questions that my husband should never have to ask himself. They are questions that nobody should have to ask. And they are questions that wives shouldn’t have to worry themselves to sleep with.
Will my husband be profiled / stereotyped / passed over, because he’s brown?
Will he make it home safe tonight?
Will he be harassed or have his dignity put aside for the convenience of others?
Will they look at him and see nothing more than another “Mexican”?
© 2012, Chantilly Patiño. All rights reserved.