I want to be able to say that the events in Charlottesville today represent a new low in racial prejudice. The sickening truth is that this is not anything new, and it has been worse. Mary Turner. Emmett Till. Ida B. Wells made a career of documenting and bringing to light racially motivated lynching in America, yet we don’t read about her in school. From the beginning, America was structured to favor white people over people of color. This started with the atrocious institution of slavery and continued after the Emancipation Proclamation with the passing of laws in the south that practically recreated slavery and continues to this day.
Back when I was a college student I was driving my old Mitsubishi at night when I was stunned to see police headlights in my rearview mirror. I drove to a populated parking lot and pulled over, where a police officer informed me I had a busted tail light. He checked my licence and registration and wrote a citation for the light, and left. At no point was I ever instructed to put my hands in the air.
This morning I read about how a black man named Philando Castile was shot to death by a cop while reaching for his wallet during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Castile was pulled over because, like me, he had a busted tail light. Unlike me, he was treated like a criminal from the start. The first thing that the officer did was instruct Castile and his girlfriend, Reynolds, to put their hands in the air. For the record, Reynolds’ four year old daughter was in the backseat, which for a white family would likely have completed the innocent family image, but not for a black one. Once again, at no point during my traffic stop was I, a white woman, ever told to put my hands in the air. Further, as a woman driving alone at night, I was even able to drive a block after noticing the headlights so I could get to a crowded parking lot where I could feel safe pulling over. A black person trying to pull over at a safe spot would likely have been accused of attempting to flee.