by Jeanette (Jet) Hood
When I lived in Phoenix, my home was in a small diverse gated community and I befriended a young man who was staying with his grandmother next door to me. Michael enjoyed documentaries and fitness walks with his tunes. He made multiple laps around our community and I sometimes wondered why he did not walk outside the community along the wide wonderfully landscaped boulevard or the trail behind the golf course. He loved my little dog and I welcomed him into my home for chats, dog-sitting, and house-sitting.
The newer housing units in the neighborhood had replaced flower fields and orange groves and were sandwiched between two high-end golf courses. Only eight blocks away, new shopping areas, and a gym were moving into a neighborhood that had recently been gang territory. It was not unusual for the police gang unit to hang out in the new Starbucks until gentrification was complete and their work had moved further west to another neighborhood.
In 2012, the year Trevon Martin was killed by a member of the “neighborhood” watch in Florida, Michael and I discussed what had happened to Trevon and shared our shock and sadness about such inequity. About two weeks later, persons of color in our gated community felt threatened by Michael as he continued his daily multiple fitness laps and they called the police. They also threatened him with a firearm. Michael is black. This really did my head in as at the time I did not know about or understand the concept of internalized racism. This couple was afraid of their neighbor because he was a young black male although they were also black. I have since learned that anyone exposed to images of people portrayed as evil, gangsters, rapists, etc. in the media are most likely to become biased.
About a month passed and I was on the way to the gym when I saw two policemen stopped in front of the house occupied by the same people who had threatened Michael. The police had stopped Michael while he was walking and were questioning him.
I stopped my car, parked it askew, and walked up to the police using bold body language saying: “What is going on here. This is Michael. He is my neighbor. He is walking in his neighborhood. He stays in my house to watch my dog and my house when I am away.” I stuck around for a minute and the police wrapped up the encounter. I was proud of myself for speaking out and it was the right thing to do.
My White Privilege 1—Comfort and Safety in dealing with persons of authority:
What I just realized today, eight years later, is that I could talk to law enforcement in a way that his friends and family could not safely do. They most likely would have been suspected of being affiliated with him in some nefarious way, and this would be based on their skin color. His Sister, Brother, Mom, Aunt, and probably even his Grandmother may not have felt safe in standing up for a young man being questioned by the police in his and their own neighborhood.
My White Privilege 2—Walking freely without causing suspicion. It took me eight years to realize that Michael most likely did not go for walks in the shady scenic places around the golf courses and remaining orange groves because it was less safe for him to do so.
Humans make quick decisions about people based on small bits of visual information. I have at times been judged by my appearance rather than for my knowledge, skills, and abilities. These occasions are insignificant compared to the many privileges I have enjoyed because I am white. My hope is that all of us can recognize and acknowledge our biases (yes, you have them because you are human) and learn to take a breath and question our own thoughts before assuming anything about another human being.
Jeanette (Jet) Hood grew up in small-town Dillon MT. She was a non-traditional student taking 15 years to attain her degree in Business Management while working full time as a single parent. Her career offered her the opportunity to travel, learn, and partner with people of disparate cultures and backgrounds.