New York Times Headline for June 15 Opinion Article by Brent Staples: Even Now, There’s Risk in ‘Driving While Black’

Regarding America’s racial landscape, I believe there are risks at all levels of social interactions, thus, I would like to add the following for consideration of could-have-been headlines (or could-have-been sub-headlines) regarding Staple’s article: Walking While Black, Bicycling While Black, Working While Black, and, of course, two that hold significance for me and all my students, Learning While Black and Teaching While Black.

Those suggestions reflect a miscroscospic  sampling of the myriad “social interactions” that take place in America’s racial landscape where risk is a predatory stalker at all levels. That is, Staples writes about the pervasiveness of “unconscious biases” that can range from fatal scenarios like that of NYPD officer Omar Edwards to harmful classroom situations for students of color with teachers who have unrealistically low expectations of them. QMfE: “We can’t have standards,” said a colleague at department meeting a long time ago (his comment reflecting a general sentiment among too many other colleagues at the meeting), “otherwise the result would be a significant reduction of minority students in the department.”  

Staples neglected or overlooked the pervasiveness of indignities and abuses consciously inflicted yet tactically camouflaged in the fabric of what appear to be the normal routine of banalities and vicissitudes of day-to-day life. What I’m describing, in a sense, is the prevalence of mini-hate crimes, not the sort that result in arrests or condemnation or ridicule of the perpetrators played out on a public stage but pernicious, nevertheless.

Staples writes:

“The experience of being mistaken for a criminal is almost a rite of passage for African-American men. Security guards shadow us in stores. Troopers pull us over for the crime of “driving while black.” [Obviously, security guards and troopers and others of that species have the power to arrest and detain if not maim and kill, so, yes, they should be ranked high on the list, of course; yet, they shouldn’t be the only prominent ones on the list. The risk of being easily targeted for injustice and indignities, period, is a rite of passage.] Nighttime pedestrians cower by us on the streets. And black men who work as undercover cops are occasionally shot to death by white colleagues, as happened to a young officer named Omar Edwards last month in New York City. [There are no known incidents in NYPD history of a black cop shooting a white cop under circumstances similar to those in the Omar Edwards case as well as the others.]”

“We have often been seen as paranoid for attributing these things to bias. But the racial stereotypes that link blackness and crime have recently become a hot topic in social science. These pervasive and often unconscious biases affect social transactions of all kinds.”

Read the rest of the June 15 Staples piece here.

Now, Staples overlooks or plays down or neglects the pervasiveness of hostile behavior effecting “social transactions of all kinds” by perpetrators consciously aware of their motives and agendas. I believe there is great awareness, significant consciousness on the part of such perpetrators (assassins of the common good, if you will) during those searing moments of “social transactions,” the likes of which can be seen easily in institutional settings, such as non-lethal redlining and housing and job discrimination (non-lethal meaning that death and pain are not eminent). Yet, can also be seen in the intrusion into a colleague’s classroom to disrupt it (Teaching While Black) or by comments like the previous one that establishing reasonable department academic standards for student majors may somehow negatively impact enrollment of students of color.” The latter an example of Learning While Black?

White America allows the perpetrators of the day-to-day injustice/predatory unfairness the kind of protection from personable accountability that encourages their predacious behavior. They know what they are doing and they do it and not because they’re unconscious of their behavior, but because of the social ambience that allows them to get away with inflicting indignities (or pretending that they didn’t do what they did or, what I am beginning to call the sociopathic oops, they didn’t know that they were doing caused any harm. 

Nevertheless, Staples’ article is worthy of reading. And I plan to be more articulate about “this” in the future.


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