And now, a few words from a silver-haired white lady who shares our country’s despair over the rash of shootings which have killed an ever-escalating number of policemen and black men.
As it happens, my six grandchildren include Max, a white policeman, and Kendall, a young black man. I know that expressing outrage at the police killings of unarmed black men does not exclude support for our police. Police officers have the most dangerous jobs in the community, and the great majority go to work every day intent on keeping the peace.
I fear for the safety of my white cop grandson Max every time he goes to work, and I fear for the safety of my black grandson Kendall any time he gets in his car. Because racism does exist, at all levels of society and in all occupations.
We adopted our middle daughter Nikki when she was six months old. I’d given birth to her older sister Elizabeth four years earlier, and would give birth to her younger sister Molly later that year. Nikki’s birth mother was Mexican-American and her birth father was African-American. She has grown into a woman who is beautiful both inside and out. She married into an outstanding African-American family in our community, and her son Kendall inherited his mother’s sensitivity, the artistic ability of his father’s family, and the kindness and athleticism of both.
Kendall’s artistic sense of color was evident early in his life. When he was very small, Nikki asked him about a new neighbor whom she hadn’t yet met. “Is she a white lady, like Nana?” Kendall looked at her quizzically and replied “Nana’s not white, she’s peach!” Nikki told him that people with their skin color were called black, which seemed even stranger to Kendall — “We’re not black, we’re brown!” Like more and more families these days, Kendall has grown up in an extended family in shades from peach to chocolate, and he loves them all.
This Peach Nana has seen differences in society’s treatment of my brown daughter and grandson. Nikki’s third-grade teacher, of Hispanic descent, told me at the end of the school year that she’d given Nikki a hard time all year because “We minorities are treated badly, and I wanted to toughen her up.” It had the reverse effect on my sensitive daughter. A few years later, a new neighbor had met my daughter Molly and asked her to babysit his children. When Molly had an unexpected conflict, I took Nikki to the neighbor’s house, introduced her and told him she’d be able to take Molly’s place. The man looked stunned, looked around in confusion, and stuttered that they wouldn’t be needing a sitter after all. (I was not unhappy several years later when he went to trial for misusing government funds.)
When they were teenagers, Nikki’s peach sisters were always able to quickly find part-time jobs, but Nikki’s job search always took much longer. To know Nikki is to love her — at Topeka High she was president of her senior class, homecoming queen, captain of the Drill Team and captain of the volleyball team. But there were those who didn’t know her who had a knee-jerk negative reaction to the color of her flawless skin.
Her son Kendall’s experience with racism has been more dramatic. Several years ago Kendall had just left a friend’s apartment one Saturday night, and was sitting in his car in the parking lot responding to a text message. Suddenly a policeman appeared at his window, barking at him to step out of his car. Kendall was terrified and called his mother, who jumped into her car with her husband and raced to the apartment complex. By the time they arrived, the police had broken Kendall’s car window, dragged him out of the car, thrown him to the ground, cuffed him and put him in the back of the police car. Kendall was hysterical. Having been raised by this WASP mother, Nikki was able to suppress her own hysteria and modulate her tone as she spoke with the policemen, and Kendall was released to her custody.
Many African-Americans have experienced being pulled over for “driving while black,” but Kendall was treated like a criminal for merely sitting in his car. It was agonizing for me to hear this story, which is all too familiar to African-American mothers and grandmothers.
To deny that racism exists in some policemen is just as erroneous as believing that there are no good cops. Perhaps distrust and hatred of The Other was an evolutionary survival mechanism millennia ago, but surely homo sapiens has sufficiently evolved to recognize that we have far, far more in common than we have differences. We can do better.