When my spouse in recent months was stopped for speeding (considerably, I might add) by local police on her way to work early one morning, there were no commands from the officer for her to put both hands on the steering wheel or out the window of the crossover vehicle. She doesn't recall the officer prepping his weapon when she reached into the glove box for vehicle registration. When she presented an expired driver license (thank the SOS pandemic 'appointments only' policy), there was no command to exit the vehicle.
Of course not – she is White. And for all we know, she could have been stopped by one of the many (but certainly not all) local police departments that are light years ahead of law enforcement officials we see in videos broadcast on the evening news in which Black and Brown lives have been lost due to poor, if not criminal, policing efforts. Communities where public safety departments don't view themselves as an occupying force, if you will.
An exaggeration? I don't think so. People of color, no matter their economic status, are forced to grapple with a different reality – racism – even in the supposedly enlightened communities like Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township.
This assessment comes from someone who is not suddenly “woke” – coming late to the movement. I grew up watching on the evening news the civil rights battles in the South, the night stick beatings, the unleashed dogs and firehoses used on marchers advocating for civil rights for people of color, public officials standing in the doorway of the school house to keep Black students out and, as I was recently reminded by one of my sisters, the racism as a child we witnessed as the family traveled on a business trip with my GM-exec dad to Georgia, where the drinking fountains for Blacks and White were labeled by race.
Progressive (with a small 'p') has long been my outlook on such issues in the public arena. I would like to think that I have consistently advocated along those lines, both in my private and professional career, be it on issues involving race, the environment, economic equity, civil liberties, voter rights, law enforcement – the list is endless. As I have stated in this space before, my mission now is worrying about the world I am leaving my sons, making sure they enjoy the quality of life and the rights to which everyone is entitled.
My focus on racism is heightened further in the last couple of years as my oldest son preps for a pandemic-delayed wedding this September to a fiancée who is Black. Both are graduates of one of the private schools in this area and post-college have been making their marks in the creative field of movies/television, first in New York and now in California. When they had their belongings shipped from Manhattan so they could take a week to tour the country as they drove to the West Coast, they had to carefully plan out what states were “safe” – as an interracial couple – to visit. Don't forget, it took until 1967 for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule unconstitutional laws banning interracial marriages. Anti-miscegenation laws were not just a Southern states thing either – Western and Plains states also had such legislation on the books. A number of states even made it illegal to date someone of another race and a jail-able offense to cohabitate or have sex with someone not of the same race.
But as we know, a court decision is not some magic wand that suddenly negates the white supremacist thinking in the land.
So for my son and his significant other, this will not be the last of the race considerations they will have to deal with as life goes on, among them how you prepare children and protect them from the fact that racism will always exist in some degree and it can be a threat to life for all people of color.
If you wonder what Black people face on a daily basis, consider this from Jonathon Capehart, Black opinion columnist for The Washington Post, written in mid April -- “Every Black person you know goes through some form of mental calculus before they start their day. And then that calculus is adjusted depending on the locations and circumstances in which we find ourselves at any given time.”
In his case he recalls being taught at an early age not to run in public, and certainly not with anything in his hands. In later years, he switched from a silver money clip to a regular wallet, lest police might react to the “glint of metal.” He always uses a vibrant colored cellphone cover so “no one thinks I'm carrying a gun.” And he never pulls out his keys in public for fear someone will think he is carrying a knife. In the evening, he always walks “down well-lit streets with lots of foot traffic. Far too many automatically deem Black people in dark spaces as suspicious.”
Yes, over the last year it has been encouraging that those taking to the streets to protest police misconduct have really been a representation of all races and ages and it appears that nationwide there is general acknowledgement that this issue must get priority attention.
Already several states, including Michigan, have started to address the general issue of race problems starting with the declaration that racism is a public health crisis. The CDC in just the last few weeks finally joined the chorus and made the same declaration, decades after national medical groups in the nation declared the same.
In the case of Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer went a step further last August by issuing an executive order creating a Black Leadership Advisory Council and requiring bias training for all state employees.
Oakland County Executive David Coulter in July of 2020 hired Robin Carter-Cooper as the first Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer as part of his administration. She is working with staff and partnering with communities in the county, where 30 percent of the population is people of color.
Karen McDonald, the new Oakland County Prosecutor, made systematic racism a key issue in her platform last November, and voters chose her, so there is hope.
All good starts on addressing the racism problem but the litmus test will come when the tires hit the pavement, as the adage goes, and we see programs implemented to truly effect long-overdue change.
As we await the outcome, I continue to share in the exhaustion of people of color. Impatient on this and other issues. Still in the fight.