My fiancé, writer Joe Clark, is black. He is unequivocally the love of my life, and beyond that, just a really amazing life partner. We share many interests, work side-by-side every day (we are both professional writers), love our cats, and do a lot of traveling together. And we’re getting married in September.
Because of him, I naturally take personally the unnecessary deaths of young black men at the hands of police officers. As a liberal writer, I’ve always been well aware of the statistics and the issues, and I thought I fully understood white privilege and the danger that black men face every day.
But I didn’t. Not really. Not until I started spending a lot of time in vehicles with a black man. I didn’t really understand that it’s something they can never stop thinking about.
As Joe and I began traveling more, I became more aware of “rules.” Rules I had never heard of before. Rules I had never thought of before.
In the wake of the senseless killing of Philando Castile, who was killed in a routine traffic stop, I took to my Facebook page to vent. And perhaps, hopefully, to educate. I do live in the South, so I have my fair share of conservative friends and family members.
I was stunned by how well received my Facebook post was. I was even more stunned to see how shocked many of my liberal friends were. They’re like me — they know the stats. They know the issues. But every time Joe gets into a car, he has to worry about things they never thought about before. It was eye-opening to many of them.
Therefore, I’ve decided to run it here to try to reach more people. I’m not sure which part of this struck a chord with so many people, so I’ll just copy/paste it as is, taking out the links to the people I tagged.
There are certain rules I have to follow when driving around or traveling with Joe. Rules I never heard about before.
1) We can’t just “drive around.” We always have to have a destination. In Florida, for example, I wanted to “just go driving and see things.” He reminded me that the correct answer to “where are you headed to tonight” asked by a police officer to a black man can not be “just driving around.”
2) In strange cities and even in our metroplex, he’s usually more comfortable if I’m driving if it’s at night.
3) My brilliant idea of “let’s visit some random small town somewhere and just freak the locals out by being total tourists” isn’t a good one in his eyes.
4) If he leaves the house and forgets his driver’s license, it’s a life-threatening emergency. I have forgotten my wallet — or just LEFT it because I didn’t need it — with no concern whatsoever. And even been stopped and it was no big deal. But Joe called me the last time he went to his parents house and said “send me a pic of my license so I can make sure I get home safely.” Wow. THAT was the one time that it was an epiphany to me.
5) He doesn’t do anything to draw attention to himself. Speeding, broken taillight, nothing.
6) Bucking authority for the hell of it. For example, it would be an interesting experiment for me and him to walk into a restaurant with a rifle, open-carrying as the gun nuts in Texas do. But for him, it would be nearly certain death.
7) We don’t wear political t-shirts to airports. He fears it will draw attention to us by TSA and cause delays. Not sure if this is a racial thing, or just a typical concern about TSA.
8) He won’t argue with a customer service person at a store, for example. If we’re returning something and there has to be conversation, I handle it.
9) Be invisible, be invisible, be invisible.
These are just off the top of my head. I’ve never questioned him when he tells me these things, but from now on, I will consider it my active duty to keep my boyfriend alive.
Some of my friends’ responses:
“As a mother if two white young adult men, this just so shocks me. My boys never ever have to think of these things. So completely unjust!!!!”
“I was at a loss for words.”
“I never believed this when I was growing up and even when I was an adult. Then I saw it happen and then I understood I will never fully understand. As much empathy as I have it is not like living black in america.”
“This is incredible. Those things you mention doing, I take for granted. What country do we live in?”
“When my daughter came home and told me about how her Latino history teacher had to keep receipts for his car stereo in his glove box, is when white privilege hit me. He was asked for them, along with his insurance card. His car has also been searched every single time he’s been stopped, except the one time he said no, that they would need to get a search warrant.”
“It’s amazing what some of us take for granted.”
“I wavered between the sad and the angry emoticon and went with angry…It makes me both, but more angry than sad, at such a sorry state of affairs that we have in this country”
“Unfortunately, I am just now realizing how right you are,and I’m ashamed of our country’s lack of progress in this area.”
“I literally have no words. None seem worthy.”
I’ll add to the list a couple of things that I didn’t think of at the time I posted this to Facebook. Joe keeps a tape recorder in the car, and he a really cool “covert glasses camera,” which look like regular reading glasses but actually work as a camera. He carries them with him “just in case.”
He also has his own safety plan, based largely on this man’s video.