I am alarmed by the recent spate of news stories about people calling the police on people of color for no good reason. In this age of “see something, say something,” a vague sense of unease is all it takes to get police on the scene. This is a problem, and not only for the people who are targeted because they happen to be sitting in a coffee shop/touring a college/napping in a common area/moving out of a vacation rental/barbecuing in a park or otherwise going about their ordinary lives.
It is almost always a white woman who makes these calls to the police. As a white woman, I feel guilty and ashamed when I read these reports. What is it about us that makes us so intolerant or hateful or quick to judge? Why are we so afraid? Frankly, it makes us look unhinged as a group. It’s a wonder people haven’t started calling the police on us. I suspect people who look like me make a lot of people nervous these days.
We have to do better. If we are nervous just because we happen to be in close proximity to someone who doesn’t look exactly like us, we have failed. We are making the world a much worse place for everyone. Certainly, we are making the world worse (and more dangerous) for the people we’ve falsely targeted for increased scrutiny, harassment, and potential violence. We are also making the world worse for the next generation. What does it say to children when they see us freaking out because we happen to be standing next to someone with a different skin color? What are they learning from us?
In several of these cases, the callers said they were uncomfortable because the people didn’t smile or wave or engage in small talk. In the Airbnb case, the woman who made the call admitted that she did so because the people loading luggage into their cars didn’t wave to her.
In the case of the Native American students touring a college campus, the woman who called the police seemed upset because the young men were too quiet. What does that even mean? How is a student supposed to behave on a college tour? Quiet seems appropriate.
And the student who was napping? How was she a threat? It’s been a while since I was in college, but I know I napped in the library more than once. Was it strictly allowed? Of course not, but no one ever called me on it. Most people understand that a catnap is a good study break. I wasn’t hurting anyone and neither was the student napping at Yale. It’s bizarre to imagine that someone would call the police over such a thing. And yet, someone did. There is no excuse for such aggressive and hostile action against someone who is doing you no harm.
We have got to stop this. We are not owed a wave from anyone. Or a smile. Or conversation. If someone doesn’t want to talk to us for any reason, they have that right. If someone doesn’t want to be friendly toward us, they have that right. Honestly, we have got to stop acting like the world owes us pleasantries. It does not. We are lucky that people don’t take one look at white women and run screaming.
I am only one white woman, but I am so sorry. Our behavior is inexcusable. Our assumptions are bad and our actions are worse. We are wrong. I am sorry.
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