Race matters

Photo by tom coe on Unsplash

Arrested for sitting down at a Starbucks in Philadephia. Detained for attending a campus tour in Colorado. Gun pointed after he took the Mentos he bought in Southern California. Kicked out of a shopping mall in Chicago. Detained by police for not waving at a woman when leaving an Airbnb property in Southern California. Accused of stealing in St. Louis.

These incidents, which occurred and were subsequently reported only in the last few days, are a familiar reality for millions of people living in the United States. These are independent events, but they are not isolated incidents. Instead, all these news stories — and those events experiences by people in racial minorities but not reported — are all connected by a similar theme of white anxiety.

It’s not a coincidence that all the people who suffered aren’t white. In Philadephia, the two men arrested while waiting for their friend at Starbucks were black. In Colorado, the teenagers on the tour of Colorado State University were Native American. In Southern California, the man threatened by an off-duty police officer at gunpoint for picking up the Mentos he bought wasn’t identified in terms of race, but I’m presuming the name “Jose Arreola” isn’t white; the women leaving an Airbnb, detained by multiple police cars and a helicopter that was later called off, were black. In Chicago, the teenagers kicked out of Water Tower Place, a shopping mall on the Magnificent Mile, were black. In St. Louis, the three teenage friends stopped when leaving Nordstrom Rack after having made a purchase were black.

But what’s missing from the stories being reported across here is how authority and power in society are being wielded to police the actions of these minorities. In all these cases, it was a person in a law enforcement capacity — either a police officer or security personnel — who became involved. Such interactions taint the image of the police and other people in positions of authority among minority communities, which in turn leads to a distrust in law enforcement personnel, as Vox has reported.

In all of these cases, I might it unimaginable to believe the police would have been called if the people of color were replaced by white people. To say this is not a race issue but rather a series of incidents that have merely been elevated to national attention because of the races of the people involved is to attempt to ignore the reality that race permeated these incidents long before journalists got wind of the story.

Earlier this academic quarter, I had to put up my takeaways from a number of readings for a class populated by a mix of engineering and social sciences majors. The readings themselves were about businesses and activist entrepreneurship, but I zeroed in on a few sentences mentioned in the story and put up one sentence in big letters: “If your story doesn’t mention race, it’s incomplete.”

I don’t think I’ve ever put up a more impactful or uncomfortable series of words on that board.