Joan's Blog

"Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Out Of My Hat"
MARCH 1, 2012 5:27PM

Racism 101

Rate: 73 Flag

Someone called the police on my husband today.  It's happened before and it will happen again. It will happen again because my husband is Black. 

When his daughter was three, the store in our neighborhood called the police. Suspected of shoplifting a tiny patent leather purse. He wanted it for his little one. He looked inside it, probably took too long making a decision. The woman called the police. He looked suspicious. He was shoplifitng one of those tiny purses.  They were nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, he told me later. It was the first time I ever saw my husband humiliated. 

Today, he went into a Levi's store. Browsing while waiting to pick me up from an appointment. The call goes out for a "Black man wearing a Cal t-shirt and a gun on his belt." The store is worried about a man with a gun. It is a reasonable concern.  But then they add this:  He's the guy who shoplifted in here before.

It was quickly straightened out. The cops laughed. Sounds like Officer H. with that Cal shirt and gun on his belt.  Officer H. wears that damn Cal shirt way too much, and those cops knew it was my husband and I could see how they would think it was funny, except it's not.

  He's the guy who shoplifted in here before. They lied, they embellished the story, when in fact, the cops would have come just as quickly with only the description of a man with a gun.

It always takes a toll on us. It ends up in an argument. I am frustrated and angry and I hurt for him. He is a man with a sterling character. It hurts me to think someone thinks otherwise. He tells me nothing has changed. I say I don't want to hear that nothing has changed. He says I don't understand racism. I say we have a Black president goddamit, and things have changed. He walks away, shakes his head at my inability to understand. 

I understand better than most.

I will never know exactly how it feels.

But I understand better than most.

I just don't want to believe his words.

No, Joan. Nothing has changed. 






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I am so sorry that for as much as things have changed, too many have not.
How sad. So hard to understand...and to live with.
I'm so sorry. Nothing has changed. Nothing.

Thanks Joan for reminding us how prevalent racism still is.

He's right, as you already know, nothing's changed really and the fact that he can face this so stoically is admirable.

But he shouldn't have to, dammit, and that's where you're right too. It's bullshit, what ever happened to the "presumption of innocence"?

I wish I had answers. The only thing I feel like I can do is make damn sure my children understand what racism is, why it's wrong, and how they can go about being better examples for their friends.
Which is something I've done since they were little.

It makes me proud that they understand, they get it, and they are better people for doing their part to end racism.
The sad thing is that if your husband was not a well-known police officer, they would have come prepared to make an arrest. Some things may have changed but many things have not.
Your husband. He's an impressive guy. IMO anyway.
It is too often that white people try to pretend racism is over, and that the real problem today is reverse racism against whites, 0r the "false" victimhood of the race card. No matter how hard I argue peoples eyes are glued shut.

After all, we have a President who looks like a ghetto crackhead, according to Fox News. We couldn't have a ghetto crackhead in the White House if we were a racist country. And Republicans love "their" blacks. Just ask Ann Coulter...sigh.
Oh Joan, this really hurts. I am so sorry.
Bummer, Joanie. Dumb dorks. I guess he doesn't wear his shield on his belt? If he's wearing his gun he probly should. I would imagine anybody in D.C. - white, black or in between - would raise flags wearing a gun in public without a shield visible. On the other hand, why would a criminal wear a gun unconcealed?
Being white, and especially being a white girl, it's hard for me to imagine living in a world where I'm automatically assumed to be doing something criminal. Jeez... there's not much else to say. "I'm sorry for your husband and other black people who go through this shit" is condescending; "Things will change" sounds like an empty promise.

I am guilty of chirping, "Look how much has changed!" like some kind of crazed Pollyanna. I see it's my way of avoiding the truth because the truth hurts too much.
So sorry at the sorry behavior. I don't think we can ever understand what it feels like to be treated that way.....It very simply sucks....
Ugh. How sad.... so, so, sad. A nice dose of reality to swipe away those rose colored glasses.....
Both stories are horrible, with the one about the teeny purse being a little more horrible. They knew he was not stealing a teeny purse. No grown man would shoplift a teeny purse. Tell everybody you know not to shop at that store. Put the story on yelp. Post it on Facebook. Don't let them get away with it.
ack! i hate that feeling of righteous indignation with nowhere to direct it! because "we" dont know...we cant" and that sucks!

now i am going to post something for you... actually it might be a re-post. i forget...but it will be for you either way.
I'm 65 years old. In 1966, I married, at age 20, the girl I had been going with since age 15. She's two years younger than I. We were married for 24 years and 11 months. Our divorce became final 1 month before what would have been our 25th anniversary. I'm on your husband's end of the interracial marriage equation....

You should know that arguing about whether things have changed or not can destroy your relationship and ultimaterly destroy your marriage....As it did mine.....

You must accept His assessment of where HE believes HE stands in the scheme of things re race and racism, and understand that he feels that he must continue to fight and struggle against racial injustice and he needs you to support him in the process and not succumb to the denial that he perceives to be part of the problem...

Failure to do so will poisin your domestic environment. Refusing to do so will only cause the wedge of racism to come between you, and if it does, the racists will have won...again..
Your story highlights the truth that we still have a ways to go. This should never happen and it angers me as well. When will we 'see' beyond race? I pray it is soon. R
Awful people. I see it at work, even though universities are supposed to be so liberal. Hah.
A top rated post, today, makes me think too that nothing has changed. So sorry that this has happened more than once. Disgusting. Being an ostrich would be great. I'd settle for being a turtle. xoo
Oh, maddening and saddening this must be. Two POVs and two truths.
Your one small self evaluation comment here is very brave. As is telling this story. Ignorant haters will always exist. It is ALWAYS about them, not V, not you, not anyone else. Try to remember you can't go back and change minds that once hurt you. You can only do what you've always done with such grace.. be brave, supportive, loving and strong. Be his wife, her mother, be you. xoxo
I can only speak for myself saying I realize I can never understand the depth of this problem. I've been fortunate, taking for granted that I would not face prejudice, so I will never fully comprehend, but I can accept my responsibility to not allow racism and prejudice into my heart. This story tears my heart out Joan...there is no shred of fairness and undoing of the hurt for a truly good man, continually put to the test of his character....
I understand how you feel. I wish it could be different.
It's tougher to be hit with the truth when you want to see the world through Pollyanna eyes. (I share that view) Just be there and support the man you love cause you can't fix stupid, and ignorance is in that same vein.
Having our black President attacked daily by haters using coded racist language is proof positive that nothing has changed. I am particularly struck by RonPo1's heartbreaking comment. I hope you will take it to heart.

Thank you all for reading.
@RonP01, your comment is beyond wise. Thank you.
some thing have changed, but they're the out-in-front things, the things polite people understand, that they say in polite company whether they believe them or not, the things they mouth, not the things they mean. and that's *something*, i'm with you, joan, because when i was a kid people said the opposite - hateful, racist, stupid things - right up front, out loud, in newspapers even. so that much has changed for the better. but the things like what happened to mr. h in the store, those are the same horrible things. so you're both right, but it's all sad.
This makes me sick and angry
Joan, There's nothing I can say here that your story doesn't tell already.
Oh Joanie, this breaks my heart. And it pisses me off. FWIW, I'm so sorry.
I am so sorry and there is nothing I could say to make it better. Racism is so deeply rooted in the American psyche because it is primitive and tribal with religious associations. There are many Americans who believe that black people cannot be Christian! Racism is alive and well. I bet you anything that those who call the police about a "suspicious" black man never believe for one second that he is suspicious or a danger in any way. It is malicious racism. Many violent tools of racism have been taken away from racists; therefore, they do the best they can with what they have.

Now, I hear someone saying, "I know many white people without a single racist bone in their body." My question is this. If there are so many non-racist people around, why don't they do something to make racism go away? Excellent post. R
It's sad that we haven't moved forward more. When President Obama was elected I was beyond thrilled thinking we had finally overcome most of the racism in this country. I guess we haven't. I've said all along that the negativity about our president in the headlines was really about the color of his skin. For those of us who are "color blind" we need to push forward. There is not enough room in this comment section for me to tell you how much I hate racism. My parents taught me that we're all God's children.
My goodness, what year is it? Keep on writing it down, Joan, it will only help people understand.
Joan understand what you can, be motivated by the changes you see that need to take place, and remain a steadfast partner. Your husband is better prepared than you think, not immune but prepared. Hopefully one day you will be as well.
Is there no end to people hating people? I'm so sorry this happened again.
I have no words. ♥♥♥
Sorry to hear of this. Sigh.
Rated. But I have to say, I'd be afraid if I were in a store and saw anyone with a gun. Guns scare the bejeezus out of me.
Of course it takes a toll and racism is devastating. But things have changed although not as quickly as they should and they'll continue to change. The number of interracial marriages (all races) is at an all-time high. Attitudes will eventually die out. Maybe not fast enough but it's happening.
Chicken Man and Snippy~ his gun is always in a holster *under* his shirt. As he was reaching up to take something off the shelf, someone noticed it. It is never intentionally in view.
Someone was shot last week and the story went out on the media that he was a black man that was killed as part of an ongoing robbery. He was killed. His aunt told me he was just an innocent bystander yet he went down in the media as a bad guy. Just awful
I'm with Victor and Ron on this. As much as I know it hurts you to hear it, as long as things like this still happen, nothing has really changed. As long as I go into a black owned and operated business, where most of the customers are black, and I get treated like dirt - presumably for being white, nothing has changed.

I know that incidents like this still happen in Chicago. In our integrated neighborhood, there are black owned and operated restaurants where I've been treated like dirt. I don't have to go to a nearby neighborhood that's 98% black to experience this. It happens within 1 mile of our house. There are other nearby businesses where I would not feel comfortable taking my black friends, because they would get similar treatment.

Hearing about what happened to Victor hurts. Every time I hear about a friend being a victim of racist treatment, or when I'm on the receiving end myself, it hurts.

Please don't let this destroy your relationship. If that happens, after all you've been through together, the bigots win.
You're both right and both wrong. Racism still lives with us everyday. The greatest irony is that according to one controlled psychological study it is most manifest among African-American women over 30 against African- American men between 14 and 40.
I know it still lives within me, despite decades of my efforts to discard that inherited baggage. It is what it is, like an indelible stain on my favorite old shirt; except it's not on my shirt, it's on my soul.
Just hope I take it with me when I die, and that it doesn't infect my grandchildren,

An Old White Dude who lives on a Mountain.
It sounds as though each of you are fighting separate battles. Something has changed. You write about this, we listen and maybe tomorrow it will happen just a little less frequently than yesterday. That is the meaning of change.
blazing idiots.
i am sorry.
I hate to believe it too. So much.
Joan - I hope you understand that I don't consider threat of arrest equal to being treated badly in a restaurant. I just see too many examples that smack me in the face with the reality of bigotry's lingering presence in our culture.
I know that the men get it worse than we do, because they are men. So here's no more understanding than you have right now. Here's hugs and condolences. R and where's the freaking EP?
I read and rated this a little while ago, and have been struggling with how to comment. It seems that there is a paradox . . . things have changed, things are changing, things have not changed at all . . . each statement is probably simultaneously true. If human brains are really that evolved, how is it that the f-ed up "-isms" still exist with such prevalence?

Okay, so that's where I am so far. But here's the other thing I want to say: Joan, your writing amazes me . . . it's as if you take a blank canvas, and paint with singular flowing lines, as if to create an abstract work; the outlines are nearly stark . . . yet the effect is stonger than if you had added minute details . . . simply stunning.

Change is definitely slow in a lot of areas.
Zumalicious please speak for yourself I am a woman and I had cops surround me and pull their guns on me because I was trying to get my locked keys out of my car in broad daylight. They told me to drop the wire sucker. Then when they found out it was my car they tried to drive off without assisting me to get my keys.

Another time I had my car vandalized by two White Canadian girls a security guard and another witness and myself told the cops we heard them pry my gas tank open with a board that woke me up, I saw them and only them running from the area the others saw them running past the car they were in. The cops asked me repeatedly for hours what did I want to do. I kept saying arrest them. They told me they couldn't because there were no actual witnesses. I told the cops if they were two Black boys or men you all could have found them 3 miles from the scene and had no problem arresting them so I don't understand what the problem is. They never did arrest the girls.
I very sadly agree...Hatred and racism are alive and well in America. Why did I too believe otherwise. Thanks for this Joan! r xo
I think things have changed, and are changing...just not fast enough. But I don't know how to make it go faster.
I live and grew up in a community that has been and is progressive and ahead of its time in the acclimated segregated community. When I want to believe my hometown is free of racism, I am kidding myself. I have seen it happen and heard about it. I have friends from church who are both well-paid professionals. In addition to heading up a not-for-profit organization in the county and his being a leading Opthamalogist in the St. Louis Metropolitan area hasn't made them immune. They live in an elite wooded small subdivision in town, one night, lights had gone out all over town, but they feared further storm damage to their home. So, J. went out and around the house to examine an area at the back of the house and the roof. Ten houses in the entire subdivision and one of their own neighbors called him in as a prowler. The only reason I know this is because it came across the police/fire scanner in our home. I never mentioned it to them and I never heard them mention it. It was a reminder to me that there is still a very real unchanged perception.

I hate to admit Officer H. being right, but as I contribute to political discussions in areas where I am a commentator, I realize the hatred of, what I hope is, a minority of our citizens as they hatefully attack our President. I, too, breathed a sigh of relief after he was elected, both for being a minute part of the grass roots, but that the culmination of "The Dream" was complete. The disrespect of this President is unprecedented. The GOP is havig a more difficult time, with the passing of each day of this primary season, hiding their racism where our President is concerned.

I wish I could offer an apology for ignorance everywhere, but I would never sleep again (presently I am not anyway). We may not be able to fix stupid, but we can not just continue to believe, we can continue to work toward the day racism dies. I still believe in Martin's dream!
Must hurt so to be on the front lines of this apparently never ending battle. I'm reminded of hearing Dr. King speak in 1963. We, white nad black, sang that old song - "We shall overcome, some day." He didn't say when that day would come.
400 years of chains, lynching, rape and hate is the bedrock of the USA. Anyone of another opinion is floating down a river in Egypt.

Change is here, but, the Confederate Traitors are very, very, very scared of it. Why? Simple, you see they internally feel that if put in the same position they would rise up in violent response, and so project that same behavior onto others who couldn't give a rat's @$$ about them, it's the ultimate ego trip/paranoid delusion combo item ... and it's what's on the Menu in Southern and Midwestern white Amerikkka!

Example B- today's Montana Federal Judge (and seditious traitor who ought to be lynched himself, Benedict Arnold redux, appointed by none other than Cheney/Rove via Shrub.

On a softer note, men of color have only two choices and your husband has taken one of them.

Auwe (Alas)
I lean more to the not enough has changed view. At an individual level, like that of your husband, I can see how the positive changes might seem of small consequence. Nicely written post.
I had hoped we, as a nation, were putting racism behind us when we elected our current president. Unfortunately, experiences like the one you describe only reinforce my fear that I am wrong.

I am a mixed blood person, but I don't look Ojibwe enough for anyone other than another Indian to identify me on sight. When I was advisor to a Native American student group at a Minnesota state university about fifteen years ago, I experienced racism for the first time. A graduate student and I were headed to an event in a small town in a northern part of the state where we were to make a presentation. We were in his pickup truck because we were hauling a teaching lodge. A braid of sweet grass lay across the back of the seat. Other artifacts as well as our physical appearance easily identified us as Native Americans. We were pulled over on a bogus traffic stop and berated by a local cop. He grabbed the sweet grass and shook it at us, accusing us of having drugs in the vehicle. He asked where the beer was hidden. He used racial slurs, and I, who had never been subjected to anything near this in my life, was ready to light into the man, demand his badge number and identify myself as Dr. So and So from Such and Such University. My grad student calmly put his hand on my arm as he heard me pull in a long breath so I could get my thoughts out fast and loud. He barely shook his head, but I knew he wanted me to stay silent. I did. After we were sent on our way, he explained that he wanted me to know what it was like. He said that sometimes just letting them do their ugliness without contributing to the event works best. I was so shaken I could not sleep that night. As I type this comment, I can feel the bone-deep shudder and anger I felt that night. My grad student, who wore his hair traditionally in a long, black braid and fit the image many have of an Indian, still lives with incidences of overt racism--which he says he prefers to the covert episodes. At least, he says, he knows of whom to be wary.
Why should things change? People are people. Let's face it. We are weak, small minded, and so insecure we need someone to step on to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. As long as people are people, nothing will change. My husband (who is "white") and I have moments like this. He's such a good person, that he thinks we've actually made progress in this country. It hurts him to think we haven't. So, I know how you are hurting. Big hug, and thank you for your courage. You could "opt out" of thinking about it or living with it on a very personal level, but you won't, and that makes you amazing. How many others choose to live in bubbles?
I grew up in the South and I live in the Northeast. The biggest surprise to me has been to learn that racism is everywhere, within every culture, and it will not go away. The best we can do is live as an example and fight it when we see it. Your essay is poignant and helps bring enlightenment. Thank you for sharing a piece of you.
This is what I do when I am suspected of shoplifting at a store. Make note never to spend my hard earned money there again. Do not patronize store and do not recommend store to others. I can't tell why this happens to me since I'm white but it's a really crappy feeling. Happened to me in Portland last Friday. No police but got followed around the store like I was going to lift something any second. Won't shop there again for anything - and it was an upscale nicknack store with 3 other stores in Maine. I wasn't treated that way in the same store in Freeport but I can get upscale and unnecessary nicknacks from many places beside this store. I almost said something this time. Last time it happened in a clothing store where 3 salespeople circled around me like vultures pretending they were doing something, I thought, while they are watching me, someone else is shoplifting and I wanted to say something but held my tongue and pride. There are enough other clothing stores... Your dollar is just the same as anyone's and just as good somewhere else. Go to black owned businesses to shop. That would be a double consumer win and smack down. We don't realize how much consumer power we have.
I hear about these things happening to black men and I cringe, but it's hard for me to truly relate because it's somewhat different for black women, or maybe I've just been lucky. I hear about things like "driving while black", but when I think back, every time I've been stopped by the police there was a legitimate reason; speeding, expired tags, tail light out, ect. Would I have gotten a pass on those things if I was a white woman? How could I know.

My father has told me stories about his mistreatment over the years, but those instances were so long ago and seem so far removed from my experience... This is not to say that I can't look around my community and see the writing on the wall, but if I'm still enrolled in "racism 101" I can understand how many whites are lacking in education and understanding. Unless it hits you where you live, you can't fully fathom the scope of the problem. Yes things have changed, but there's so much inequity baked in the cake, it will take generations to root it all out.
I think the genuine fear is that if we ever were able to eradicate the uneven playing field and level it off those who have received unjust entitlements will have to compete like everyone else. I think more people than not recognize their privilege and have no intention of giving it up in the name of parity.
Leonde and Desnee both make very good points. Seeing what some of my friends have faced made racism more real to me. Occasional incidents while riding my bike or taking public transit through neighborhoods where I was a minority really brought it home and made me appreciate how much easier I have it most of the time compared to friends of color. But I'm not in their skin, so my experience will never be quite the same as theirs.
Ignorance. That's what it comes down to. Despite all efforts to confront and overcome racism, we still haven't conquered ignorance.

I just had this conversation with my 14 year old last night. I went into his room to have a talk. "So and so told me they were having a political talk with you yesterday. I think it is good that you hear other peoples views to but I need to remind you so in so is also a racist and THAT is not okay. You have to realize that they are wrong." He says mom I know I just nod my head so they will stop talking, I don't want to listen. We can't change the world but maybe joan, just maybe we can change one child at a time.
Believe me, things have gotten better. Alot better. If your husband is American, all you have to do is ask his grandmother or mother...or for that matter, his grandFATHER.

Fifty years ago, you wouldn't even have been able to marry your husband in most States. He knows that, too, I'm sure.

Rise above it (racism) and enjoy your life.
HAve you heard of Holla Back, the website where women snap pics of men who harass them and post them? There should be something similar for this type of racial harassment.
Awful. I'm so sorry about this, Joan. How can we ever really know unless we have experienced it for ourselves.
What I meant to say but was typing too fast is, "how can we ever know how it feels unless it has ever happened to us."
Thank you for all the interesting and thought-provoking comments.
@hugs, me~ I love the goal: one child at a time.
How painful for you both.
Sending you a hug and hope that you realize you are both on the same team.
I was stuck for a comment because I carry a bit of Pollyanna too and tend to see things as "better." But this makes me realize that "better" can still be nothing.
And if that shop was actually being robbed by real criminals, who do you think would've protected lives and property? The guy in the Cal shirt.

Did they even apologize?
It was painful enough reading this. I can't imagine how painful it was for you to write it, and for your husband to live it.

Maybe there were times when he thought that some progress had been made, that things had changed. But I would imagine that an incident like this sets the clock back to zero. The anger and the humiliation are almost unfathomable.

I would also imagine that this could drive a wedge between two people. The truth is that you both perceive the world and are perceived by the world differently. But I don't think it's insurmountable. Your realities are what they are, and you have to agree to understand and accept each other's realities.
Jeanette, you are exactly right. When my daughter and I talked about this on the phone yesterday, she said, "This is just the time for you to be sympathetic, not debate him." She is so so wise.
Thank you for *your* wise comment.
Those of us who have never walked a mile in your or your husband's shoes will never completely understand, will we.
Joanie, I rated this long ago, but didn't know what to say. I think things are worse here in America than ever. As I said on Zuma's it now appears acceptable to make racist remarks about our President, our First Lady, as Lez says also in coded language. I am not silent when this goes on in my own life and I try to be aware of other people's journey. Speaking up is the first step.
Sad but true. What a world.
There is a wonderful dialogue going on here, Joan, which needs to continue being talked about. Thanks for keeping the topic in the forefront.
I'd like to add that, as a woman of color, I am extra careful when I'm walking around stores. I go out of my way (really exaggerated) to ensure that everyone sees that I am taking my glasses out of my purse in a public area so they don't think I'm trying to pull a fast one. I've never been accused of shoplifting, but have felt unwelcome in some stores, and even felt like I was being watched. I feel like telling people, "Really? You really think I'd sell my soul to the devil for a $2 item?" Meanwhile, I've seen other people breaking the rules left and right without consequences. (Eating fruit, candy and other items while shopping). ...
All, I can honestly say, Joan is I'm glad the police officers knew him because nothing has changed. I'm sad to say, in some ways, it's worse.
I'm not a Pollyanna--but I'm still stunned when something like this happens. Stunned and saddened. This was painful reading, painful writing, a painful experience. Rated, with love.
I actually cried, Joan. Not at the part about racism, but that you got into an argument and it ruined what sounded like a perfectly fine day. And very little has changed except we can now eat at the counters and be served by people who may hate us because of our skin color. Thank you do much for your story that sheds light on what it feels like to be black and why we feel nothing has changed. You do understandore than most and any insight into this subject that is one of America's sick "secrets" is always welcome.

I guess I want to say "not enough has changed."

But I can see where he'd see it differently.

This is so horrible to hear. I'd like to think things have changed, but it's true that, when reading something like this, you really have to question that..... I'm so sorry for you guys.
I said it on another comment recently, the fiercest, angriest reactions to racism I've ever witnessed were from a white woman married to a black man. Their children were in their late teens when I knew them and she still would blow off the top of her head over things most of us didn't notice. Even the black people, who would just shrug some of these things off. It taught me a lot.

Once I was with my very white son in a posh cooking shop and he was followed closely by the clerk. He was a little scruffy and in his mid-twenties, probably not a type she dealt with a lot. We were the only ones in the shop, had entered separately and she didn't know I was with him. I followed her as closely as she followed him. I was pissed but never felt threatened and she didn't call the cops so it's no way the same but I learned again, this time from how angry my own reaction was.
nerd cred, thank you, and you are exactly right. My husband was angry, but in a "yeah, I'm used to it," kind of way. I wanted to go into the store and demand an explanation. Especially after I found out (my husband talked to one of the salespeople the next day) that the sales person had been alerted by the manager to "follow him" as soon as he walked in. The gun under his shirt was not the first thing that alarmed him. Sadly, this is his beat. He KNOWS so many of these shop owners. It's when he's a Black man out of uniform, the playing field is no longer level.
Ugh...what a sad story. But well-told and concise.
Thanks for writing this. My sons are black. The racism of the world exhausts me philosophically. As a mom, it also terrifies me that hatred can continue to exist in the world where my beautiful boys live.