It all started with some mail for my husband and ended with me sitting on my porch with a law enforcement officer. I asked him to come. I sat with him without fear. I was able to do that because I’m white and I have privileges that minorities don’t.
Let’s backtrack. Earlier in the year, my husband opened an official-looking letter that I thought might have been about registering to vote. Turns out it was a court summons — for weeds. No warning, no knock on the door but a demand: Come straight to court on this date in about a month. He was incredulous but sighed and resolved to deal with it.
Bubbling with repressed “Karen” urges that made me want to speak to life’s manager, I had a couple of questions before he dealt with it. What is the standard procedure for citing weeds? Why was there no warning? Where was my summons?
Why was my husband, who has a four-part Hispanic name, the only one to get official paperwork when both our names are on the title and mine is listed first? Was it patriarchy or racism at play today?
If you have to ask, it’s probably all the things.
I’ve watched racism play out subtly here in New Mexico. For example, I hardly ever get stopped by border control going through a checkpoint. What’s a border patrol checkpoint? Just wait until you find out how “free” you are 100 miles inside a United States of America border. Spoiler: It varies, sometimes depending on your race.
My husband, a light-skinned but accented Mexican immigrant who is now a U.S. citizen, gets the third degree: Where is he going? Where is he coming from? Did they detect sass? He gets to watch them tear apart his car at secondary inspection.
Once, I slid my sunglasses down past my blue eyes to stare at an agent from the passenger side as he started to walk around our car. The agent looked at me and let us go. It was completely arbitrary.
Turns out, that’s how it was with weeds. Summoning my best speak-to-your-manager voice, I went to the police station to get more information. Turns out, I was able to see the officer who made that summons.
I sat on my porch waiting with a book and tea. We had a nice chat. He told me he hadn’t felt the need to give warnings that day. He had the authority to choose which name to give the summons to and whether it would be a warning or an issue for a court paid by taxpayers. He told me that weeds get resolved faster with a court summons.
I had heard enough and said, “Well, that seems like there are some policies that need to be changed.”
He looked at me over his sunglasses and said, “Well, that’s your opinion, ma’am.”
There were no guidelines or policies on how that codes officer approached the situation; it just depended on how he felt that day. For my husband, that resulted in receiving a court summons and possibly a wasted morning. For George Floyd, it was receiving a knee to his neck and being murdered.
White people: You want some concrete steps you can take to make the world better because you feel hopeless? Change the policies of oppression by using the privileges that others don’t have yet. Listen to those whose stories detail a feeling beyond incredulity, a bubbling rage covered by an acceptance to be polite in white company so they don’t get killed trying to change the policies that oppress them.
Know that people of color may want no part in your proactivity, and that’s fine. Do your own research. Take an issue that you feel very strongly about — for example, did you know that maternal mortality is three to four times higher in black women than in white women? — and see how that issue affects people of color where you are.
What policies can be changed? Then help those people of color leaders and POC-led organizations change those issues. They are already fighting and have been for generations, but just because that’s not our world doesn’t mean our worlds are separate. They never have been.
We can’t stand by idly and hope racism isn’t there because some of us don’t want to see it. Black lives matter for all of us. And showing that those lives matter starts by changing the policies, or lack thereof, that lead to any more of our brothers gasping for the same air we all share.
— Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter: @TheCMcClure. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.