When you’re standing in front of you closet or rummaging through your dresser drawers attempting to decide what to wear, you probably weigh what the weather is outside, the nature of event or outing you’re dressing for, maybe which pair of slacks or which skirt feels comfortable.   I’m betting that you don’t consider whether what you’re going to wear will make you more or less vulnerable to police attention.  If this is how you decide what to wear, then you are most likely not a Black man.  Because if you are a Black man not only what one wears but who one is going to be associating with often enter into this otherwise prosaic choice of deciding “what to wear.”   


An interesting article in this morning’s WashPo WHAT TO WEAR profiles one young Georgetown University student, Jawad Pullin, and his thought processes over not only the “what to wear” dilemma every day but even what color his daily traveling companions are going to be.  This, I’m betting, is not a consideration many White folks contemplate as they brush their teeth every morning.  The article is a revealing glimpse into the realities that Black men (and women) face and to whom the phrase “arrested while being Black” isn’t some catchy cultural cliché but part of their lives.  The recent spate of videotaped shootings of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald and the death in police custody of Sandra Bland have reminded the Black Community that although we have made great strides in race relations we aren’t there yet.  The Washington Post’s research last year, yielded the result that an unarmed Black man was fatally shot once every nine days.

Jawad Pullin grew up in North Philadelphia and against all odds got A’s in high school, aced his SAT’s and won a Gates Scholarship to attend Georgetown.  During the time I lived in Philly, North Philadelphia resembled a war zone rather than a community where people lived.  It was a place I drove through as quickly as possible.  Another tactic Pullin uses to protect himself from harm, is consciously making White friends and calling on them to accompany him when he travels outside campus.  As he puts it, “If you go with White friends, there is a far lower chance of bad things happening.  It’s like it diffuses everything.”   And just to highlight Jawad’s decisions, he’s living in one of the most liberal city in the nation, one that has a majority Black population and has been governed for decades by a fairly racially mixed government.  It’s not a place that he should feel threatened.  But he does.

For me, when I moved to Philadelphia after having lived in D.C. for about five years, I was shocked at how different were Philly’s police officers.  In Washington, maybe because of the masses of tourists they have to deal, the police you ran into on the street were pretty much willing to answer your questions and didn’t seem as if they harbored some atavistic hatred for the rest of humanity who weren’t members of the “Serve and Protect” community.  I quickly learned that to approach a police officer for any reason was simply not a pleasant and rewarding experience.   I’ve been aware of the “arrested for being Black” phenomenon for a long time.  Back in my college days, I was pulled over by a North Carolina State Trooper in the middle of rural nowhere, for no particular reason.  I wasn’t speeding, my tags were current, pot fumes were not streaming out the windows.  My crime, however, since I did not receive even a warning, appeared to be that the four of us were a salt and pepper band of mixed race man and that, couldn’t have been good in the eyes of the trooper.  It was a scary experience. 

Other folks quoted in the piece also alter their behavior as situations warrant.  Morgan State University graduate, 22 year old Calvin Alston, stopped wearing hoodies after watching the shooting of 17 year old Laquan McDonald in Chicago.  And 20 year old Michelle Johnson slowed down while driving past a police officer thinking of what happened to Sandra Bland in Texas who was pulled over in a traffic stop and died in police custody.   While I’m assuming that none of us White folks have altered our behavior as a result of the Brown, McDonald, and Rice shootings, among the Black community it has only reinforced the dangers they face – and we do not – as they go about living their daily lives. 

Perhaps after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the 1968 Riots, the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. we entered a period of collective amnesia over race relations.  Maybe we thought that things were settled, that we’d put in place corrective mechanisms that would end discrimination because nothing much was done when we wound up with Black men in record numbers.  When crack cocaine use was simply considered a Black crime while today heroin, as a White phenomenon, is considered a public health issue worthy of treatment in a rehab clinic.   It was, perhaps, the election of Barack Obama that ripped the lid off society’s complacency.  The explosive impact of his election on Whites – conservative and illiberal – has resulted in the continuation of a conversation that stalled out a couple of decades ago.  And as this Post article vividly illustrates, it’s one that we desperately need to have.

There is nothing to say here.  


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