Friday, July 15, 2016

Lives Matter, Black or Blue or Whatever. So We All Need Fortitude.

Canada was where slaves went to win their freedom in the bad old days. Some say Canada doesn't have racism; some say what it has is racial ignorance, due to the overwhelming White majority. To some extent Blackness has been literally erased by Canada. Studies of some ex-slaves' families showed that they intermarried with White people for so many generations that by now their descendants look White. What my husband (triracial, but mostly southern Indian ancestors) recalled was that sometimes he buddied up with a student of African descent and a "full blood" Eskimo, the non-Whites at McGill that year, and once when they were walking down the street a child pointed them out, squealing, "Look at that!" He said they called each other "That," later, as a joke. Not exactly persecution, he allowed.


I'm inclined to believe that Mr. Dauphin was right not to cry racism, because so many people, these days, live in fear, and call the police when they see anything unexpected. Is that person (they probably don't dare get close enough to see the color or gender) just relaxing in a car, or is s/he homeless? Ooohhh, they're afraid of homeless people, they've heard that a lot of them are mentally ill, so they call the police and they run and they hide. And then the person who just wanted to take "time out" from a work or family quarrel, curling up with a good book in a public place, instantly feels that s/he has been accused of a crime.

How many times I've been walking to or from a job or a store or a friend's house, and someone feels afraid to share his/her car with a "stranger," even a little old lady, so some 250-pound fullback calls the police and asks them to undertake the terrible danger of asking whether I need a lift somewhere. No matter how much I might appreciate a lift with a neighbor who was going in the same direction, I probably would feel that I don't need a lift with the fullback. I probably feel even more strongly that I don't need a lift in a police car, either.

How many times I've been called reckless and foolish, but...when I saw a "familiar stranger" from a nice suburban neighborhood lying flat on the ground, on the neighborhood "parkway," I just went up and asked him if he was all right. I figured it would be less stressful for him to see a neighbor first, even if he wanted that neighbor to call the police.

I ask people who've stopped their cars beside the road (and aren't already talking on phones) if they want to call someone for help, too. Or if I'm driving, which I earnestly try to avoid doing, I ask if they want a lift. Of course, in my home town, real strangers hardly exist; people I don't immediately recognize are neighbors, and most of them are distant relatives, and some of them are even people I claimed as friends, long ago when they didn't look like the grandparents they now are.

On a road trip, or in the city...well, I say a quick mental prayer for guidance. I have faith that I might receive a warning that I was walking into something worse than a boring conversation. (Once, just once, I did walk into a dangerous situation by talking to a stranger, but it wasn't as dangerous as living in fear is.) Mr. Stranger Danger does exist in the real world, but for every one of him there are at least 9,999 people who might, at worst, raise your blood pressure by sticking to an annoying opinion.

Should other people be braver about talking to strangers? might be like dating. For years I thought I just happened to have only ever met good, decent, respectful men. Then when two guys who'd been in my "friend zone" for years had to admit, in court, that they hadn't behaved toward other, younger girls the way they'd always behaved toward me...I really was shocked. Those guys definitely understood that my no meant no. Why did they not understand that someone else's no also meant no? It seemed that they thought some other women were sending mixed messages. High-heeled shoes, or the way women walk in them, are a mixed message. Too much eye contact, too many smiles or giggles, or other "flattering" or "flirty" behavior, is a mixed message. Guys who respected me and my sisters, even when my sisters were thirteen and the guys were twenty-five, had less respect for some other people's sisters, even when those sisters were thirteen and the guys were thirty-five, because of those mixed messages. So I'd have to say that other people should be mindful of the kind of nonverbal messages they send out when they try to build up the courage to approach strangers.

One thing that makes police officers special is that they've been selected and trained to send out messages that definitely don't communicate anything like "I'm just a natural-born victim," which is the primary message women express by wearing high-heeled shoes outdoors. Yes, hooker heels attract men who like to act chivalrous; they also attract predators.

On the other hand, the body never stops communicating. Even when he's looking at something else, a big, strong, young man nonverbally communicates "I may be dangerous." Police officers typically start with that nonverbal message and add other bits of nonverbal communication--not limited to visible weapons--that amplify the warning. Mostly that's good; police officers typically learn to speak very, very respectfully to law-abiding people, to soften the nonverbal threat message, and those of us who grew up with scarey-looking protective fathers naturally appreciate scarey-looking protective cops.

There are, however, some young men whose hormones lead them to challenge other prospective alpha males. We're seeing a lot of stories about them in the news lately. It's not exclusively Black guys getting into quarrels with White cops, although that combination attracts a lot of attention. It's "Type A" males getting into quarrels with other "Type A" males, especially but not exclusively when one of them is a police officer, or a nightwatchman or a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, or an irate property owner speaking to a trespasser. Race prejudice may escalate those quarrels, or the things those men say to each other may do it. (Hot, humid weather doesn't defuse situations, either.) Either way, somebody says something below the full Alphonse-et-Gaston standard of formal courtesy, and the next thing you know somebody is hurt or dead.

I don't know how many young readers "of color" (Black, Latino, Dakota, any minority that has a poor-and-disreputable image in your part of the world) this web site has, but once again, this web site pleads: Don't be a victim of those who may actually want to rekindle the race war of their youth, whether because old-school Communism is still their religion, or just because they've lived and not learned. Be brave. Be tough. And that means tough enough, if you meet a police officer while "Driving While Black" or whatever else, to realize that s/he is under stress too. If you are (a) a young man, (b) large, (c) dark-complexioned, (d) foreign-accented, and/or (e) otherwise associated with a "problem" group in your area, that also sends out threat messages that you need to defuse. Show respect, even if that means "saluting the uniform not the man" and living to document the fact if you have found the real jerk who occasionally gets hired as a police officer.

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. This July has been long and hot enough, with enough black days, already. So this web site recommends that people just not set up this kind of situation. If you don't seriously believe that someone has committed a crime, think three or four times before you call the police. If you think the person might be lost, sick, confused, in danger, or the owner of a stranded car you saw a few miles back, it may be safer to ask the person yourself. Oh, of course you should be cautious--approach from inside your vehicle, with the window rolled down just an inch, and be accompanied by a friend when possible. I believe a cell phone is a good primary defense weapon because, when I take it out as I approach a stranger, that little light nonverbally says "I'm here to help any means necessary." But I think we as a nation need more courage, more sanity, and more levelheadedness.

As my generation become officially "old ladies" or "old gentlemen," I think more of us should reflect on what those terms mean. They don't mean "weak" or "stupid" or "helpless." They mean senior. They mean responsible. I'm definitely smaller and older than the average person in cyberspace, so I'm entitled to call myself a little old lady--and what that means is a responsible adult who is obliged to offer whatever help I can to anyone who may need it.

Especially in these hot, humid, brain-melting Dog Days of July.