Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ice Cream, Race and Privilege

Earlier today, I posted a little video on Facebook of a cop in Halifax who is pulling people over, ostensibly for some traffic violation, and then citing them for "driving without ice-cream," before giving an ice-cream cone to everyone in the car. I offered it as a feel-good counterpoint to all of the very serious (and very real) trouble with policing and race in America (and Canada, I presume).

A friend and classmate of mine gently but directly pushed back on me, pointing out how cruel it is to pull someone over when that person will almost inevitably fear for their safety. Even if the resolution is good, there's surely a moment when the driver thinks "Is this it?" Even if the intentions are good, which I assume they truly were, getting to the "good stuff" required playing on this woman's deeply seated fears. If I'm splitting hairs, I might challenge my friends use of the term "sadistic" to describe this, because the intent was to cause joy, not pain. But, that's a minor quibble--whether through cruelty or thoughtlessness, the pain that can be caused by this kind of thing is very, very real.

Here's another thing, though. When I first saw the video, I had that same thought. It wasn't as well developed, and certainly wasn't as strong, but I did think about that moment when the person in the car must have been afraid. I don't think I thought of it in terms of "feared for her life," but all of us who have been pulled over know that wrenching feeling of fear. For those who have seen like-skinned people killed for minor (or non-existent) traffic violations, that nauseating feeling must be incalculably greater. But, despite my learning more and more about what it's like to be a person of color in a situation like this, it just didn't fully register in this incident. It didn't seem like the main point. I mean, the interaction ended well, and she laughed, so all was good, right? It's just oversensitive to focus on that "little" moment when the cop was just trying to do something nice.

Still think it's not a big deal? Give this one a read:
To the untrained eye and ear, the black woman captured in the video sounded full of joy. But to black people everywhere, we know what loud, uncontrollable relief looks and sounds like. That relief that Maya Angelou once talked about that black women have perfected. That relief that forces you to laugh because you haven’t had the space to cry just yet. That relief every time we interact with police officers because we never know if we will leave that interaction alive.
Watching a situation, and being able to forget that for someone who looks like that, as opposed to someone who looks like me, it might have induced absolute, real-life panic? Thinking about the fear, but only briefly, and lightly? Thinking that a false pull-over might be, overall, funny and fun? There's a term for that.


Thanks, LR, for helping me see mine.