Monday Morning Thoughts: What White People Don’t See…

Saturday’s column on racial profiling definitely spawned some conversation here and on Facebook.  I also got a number of private messages and emails.

Here are a few of the responses I got.

Comment on the Vanguard: “Would you have written this article if the suspect was vaguely described as white, 6-foot tall and drives a newer white model 4-door sedan?  I think we all already know the answer to that.”

Comment on Facebook: “This is ridiculous in more ways than one. I’m checking out all 4-door white, newer model sedans driving down our street – profiling them lol.”

Comment on the Vanguard: “Davis is frequently the victim of Racial Targeting- Our little white town suffers from very frequent downtown bank robbers, the all too common late night punch and grab assaults and yes, the endless door to door knock and rob attacks.  Racial Targeting is very real…  I think David should write an article talking about the very real suffering of the pasty white victims.”

The problem I see is that a good many people in this community – well-intentioned as they may be – do not have a real sense for what it is like to be a person of color and be regarded with an automatic air of suspicion as they walk down the street.

A friend of mine, married to an African immigrant, told me that her husband was afraid to go outside on Friday to get the mail.

Her husband has lived in Davis for over 17 years, but when he learned that there have been home invasions in Davis and the suspect description is an African American male around 6ft tall, his response was “wow, here we go again.”

One time when he was jogging with his family, including their young son on a tricycle in their neighborhood, there were a few groups of people on their evening walks coming toward him.  Each group looked up at him and switched to the other side of the road with worried looks on their faces.

This is what people of color – specifically younger black males – have to deal with in Davis and elsewhere on a regular basis.

So it is easy for a poster to ask if we would react the same way to a vague description of a white male suspect, because the response of the community and the impact are not the same.

For the most part, I don’t think this is conscious bias on the part of people in this community.  However, as I have noted a number of times, students of color, particularly African Americans who come to UC Davis, often find themselves in uncomfortable situations within the community.

It is not just police who seem to disproportionately stop African Americans and Hispanics, but it is the treatment from ordinary citizens that heighten this discomfort.

We need to build awareness in our community of this.  Whenever it gets brought up, there is a combination of denials, false comparisons, and dismissive jokes.

The problem is that you cannot compare the impact of a vague white suspect where every white person in a town like Davis is not going to be regarded with suspicion.  The same is not true when the suspect is a vaguely described black person.

But the reality is that through some combination of popular media and news reporting on crime, a deep suspicion about the intentions of black people has been planted in our minds.

While it is easy to dismiss this assertion, a brief conversation with a black (or brown) person will yield many stories of how they experience this suspicion in a variety of ways.

White folk should be careful not to dismiss this bias just because they have not experienced it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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35 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: What White People Don’t See…”

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      You realize I only used the term once in this piece and even then qualified it: “This is what people of color – specifically younger black males have to deal with in Davis and elsewhere on a regular basis.”

      So I am not sure that your question is relevant.

      1. Jim Hoch

        David, you use terms in ways that are different than the commonly agreed definition. When I read something I like to know what the author is trying to say. POC is a term that’s used a lot by you and I would like to know what you mean by it. Are you saying that what you mean by POC varies by article?

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          No, I think as a rule person of color refers to someone who is not white, but in some contexts we are talking about subsections within that non-white population.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            What’s not clear is why we’re not addressing the core issues raised in this article

        2. Jim Hoch

          “What’s not clear is why we’re not addressing the core issues raised in this article”

          Because it is all hearsay. What is there to discuss? You spoke to someone who says they are married to someone who said something. Well OK.

  1. Howard P

    So, you admit the POC’s you talk to ‘profile’ most/all ‘white folk’, they encounter… that’s a start…

    And, if you disagree, you’re just in ‘denial’…

    The only time I’ve been ‘concerned’ about a POC (or ‘white’ for that matter…) is when their behaviors are concerning… like the time a fellow student was running by, punched me hard in the solar plexus and started whaling on me… never did trust people running at me after that… now matter what they looked like…  as for that fellow student, I always looked at him with suspicion, and gave him a wide berth… since he was black, guess you’d assert I have racial biases… no, I have ‘behavioral’ biases… based on individuals, not classes of people…

      1. Howard P

        While it is easy to dismiss this assertion, a brief conversation with a black (or brown) person will yield many stories of how they experience this suspicion in a variety of ways.

        Plus comments you’ve made in previous articles/threads…

        1. David Greenwald

          You said “you admit that POC’s you talk to ‘profile'”…

          I admit no such thing because that’s not what they are doing.  What they are doing is talking about their experiences while in the community.

  2. Tia Will

    The following is my personal experience and interpretation. Take it for what you will.

    I was raised in a racist family. Neither of my parents would have admitted it, but here is my evidence:

    1. Frequent derision of those of black and Hispanic heritage as lazy, dirty, loud. Never spoken in public, but often at home.

    2. Frequent comments that those of darker skin where “not like us”.

    3. Not allowing us to have blacks/Hispanics as close friends.

    4. Always polite in public, but my mother would clutch her purse and draw us girls in close whenever in close proximity to blacks/Hispanics. My father would walk faster, or cross the street if possible in order to avoid close proximity.

    I didn’t know any different until in late elementary, I read To Kill a Mockingbird which was a total life changer for me since it allowed me to see a completely different picture of the significance of skin color. It has taken me years to undue the teachings of my childhood and it is still a work in progress. I recognize that I have lived a life of relative privilege based on the color of my skin. None of this was my “fault” and probably not the “fault” of my parents either since they were not well read or educated. But that does not mean that this overt or covert racism does not affect those of darker skin and the denial of whites is part of the reason these discrepancies continue. It will take generations to undue these inequities. Luckily, my children and millennial in general seem to be appreciative of their situation and not in the denial that I had to overcome.

     

  3. Howard P

    What I take it for was your experiences.  Perfectly valid.

    My experiences, were not only quite different, but in some ways diametrically opposite.  Also perfectly valid.

    1. Tia Will

      Hi Howard,

      Comment appreciated. The problem that I see is when individuals believe and try to convince others that their way of seeing the world is the only valid version. We have a few posters here who take that approach although we seem to also have lost a few.

      1. Howard P

        Hi, Tia… you said,

        The problem that I see is when individuals believe and try to convince others that their way of seeing the world is the only valid version.

        Agreed.  Unconditionally, unless there is a matter of demonstrable fact involved… then, ‘it depends’…

        A part of a cite from another poster (third party quote)…

        if you’ve NEVER had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.

        So, if I was randomly attacked (which I was) by a black, because I was white, was it ‘white privilege’ that the black Jr Hi vice principal, who saw the event, intervened and read the black kid the riot act?  Do I get a ‘hall pass’ because I never translated the event to a suspicion or hatred towards blacks (to the individual classmate, hell yes, not based on race, but on behavior)?   No, even tho’ I’ve never attacked (in any sense) anyone for their race, but have been attacked, because I’m white, I must take responsibility for idiots who were raised differently, must humble myself, make amends/atonement, and accept the label of being an ‘evil’ white person.  OK.

  4. John Hobbs

    “What’s not clear is why we’re not addressing the core issues raised in this article”

    Are  you really that naive and/or oblivious to Jim’s history of deflection and obfuscation?

    Those are the bread and butter of alternative fact finding.

  5. Alan Miller

    I read this today and went back to Saturday’s article as I hadn’t read it, so I include quotes from that.

    The problem is that you cannot compare the impact of a vague white suspect where every white person in a town like Davis is not going to be regarded with suspicion.  The same is not true when the suspect is a vaguely described black person.

    I agree with the above assertion.

    And . . . then what?

    The impression I get from reading these two articles, and the statement,

    Maybe its better to simply have people be on the look out for specific behavior rather than people’s characteristics.

    Is that DG is suggesting that the racial component be removed from all police descriptions?

    Thus, a conversation with a police dispatcher in 2018 may go something like this:

    Me:  I’d like to report someone carrying three bicycles with locks on them.

    Police dispatcher:  Can you provide a description?

    Me:  I didn’t get a good look as it was kinda dark, but the person appeared to be a black male with a red shirt and jeans, about 6’2”, maybe 35-40 years old.

    Police dispatcher:  So that was a male with a red shirt and jeans, about 6’2”, about 35-40 years old.

    Me:  A black male . . .

    Police dispatcher:  I’m sorry, sir, but we can no longer use race to describe suspects.

    Me:  Say WHAT???  But I am sure he appeared to be black, even though it was dark out.  Doesn’t that help the officer find him?

    Police dispatcher:  I’m sorry, sir, the City has issued rules and we have to follow them.

    Me:  But . . . what???  Really?  I mean, just tell the officer he appeared to me to be black, OK?  I mean, I’m not trying to be a racist a—–e about this, he just WAS black, OK?

    Police dispatcher:  I’m sorry sir, I can’t do that.

    Me:  Look, there was an Asian guy there with a red shirt, too, reading a book.  If the black guy leaves, I don’t want your officers bothering the Asian guy.

    Police dispatcher:  Sir, please stop referring to race.  We don’t use race as a description in Davis anymore.  Your language is not . . .

    Me:  But . . . what . . .

    Police dispatcher:  Sir, is the person that doesn’t have the bicycles shorter?

    Me:  You’re asking me if the Asian guy is shorter?  Isn’t that a race . . .

    Police dispatcher:  Sir, I didn’t say that.

    Me:  I’m just trying to help your officers locate the right person.

    Police dispatcher:  Sir, we are moving away from descriptions and going on behavior.

    Me:  OK, there’s a non-specific human being carrying three locked bicycles.

    Police dispatcher:  Thank you, sir.

    Me:  Oh, wait, he put the bicycles in some bushes, both him and the Asian guy are . . .

    Police dispatcher:  Sir!

    Me:  Um, sorry . . . I think.  Anyway, they are walking up 2nd Street.  They are the same height!

    Police dispatcher:  Can you give me a description to distinguish them so they can make contact with the correct individual?

    Me:  I already did!  Oh, forget it.  #click#

  6. Alan Miller

    And if anyone thinks I was being biased choosing a black person as the potential bike thief, I did so as not to biased towards white bicycle thieves.  Most of the people I have seen with what appear to be stolen or “appropriated” bicycles the last many years in this town are white males.

        1. David Greenwald

          No the issue here is racial profiling and how people of color are treated in this community – viewed with suspicion..  Bicycles are not being stolen on that basis but rather a crime of opportunity. The race of the victim is shear happenstance (although perhaps somewhat structural due to opportunity and numerical prominence).

        2. Alan Miller

          I think you bringing this up suggests you don’t really understand this issue.

          No, I purposefully did that to see if you would trip-out on the fact I chose the “wrong” race as the thief, rather than focusing on my main point.

        3. Alan Miller

          No the issue here is racial profiling and how people of color are treated in this community – viewed with suspicion.

          I am not disagreeing that it is likely that many people do that, and that people of color, however you define that, feel that.  OK, so I’m aware.  I was actually aware of that before the Vanguard came around.  Now, what do you want changed?

          My question, in writing out that scenario, is:  do you want race to no longer be a component of police descriptions – yes or no?

          Bicycles are not being stolen on that basis but rather a crime of opportunity.

          This is not about bike theft, it’s about what steps do you want taken, besides people being aware that people of color are not not treated the same — and what “basis” are you talking about?

          The race of the victim is shear happenstance (although perhaps somewhat structural due to opportunity and numerical prominence).

          The victim here being the person who’s bicycle was stolen?

  7. Keith O

    One time when he was jogging with his family, including their young son on a tricycle in their neighborhood, there were a few groups of people on their evening walks coming toward him.  Each group looked up at him and switched to the other side of the road with worried looks on their faces.

    Worried looks and all.  Was it that kid on the tricycle that worried them?  Or maybe they were giving the family more room for them to pass?

    Funny, but this old white guy often stands outside on the sidewalk leaning against his truck while having coffee and I see strangers walking towards me who will sometimes change sides of the street before they get to me.  I just chalk it up to they might be shy or don’t feel like engaging anyone.  I had no idea they were being racist.

  8. Howard P

    No the issue here is racial profiling and how people of color are treated in this community – viewed with suspicion…

    Earlier in this thread,

    I think you’re using the term profiling as a synonym for stereotyping.  But what I’m discussing here is actually neither.

    Which is it?  Not sure you can have it (credibly) both ways…

  9. Alan Miller

    In the photograph above maybe the witness saw what she said she saw.  Or maybe she was afraid and her mind became vivid with imagination, or perhaps her own actions caused the man to speed off.  We don’t know.

    That’s basically true of EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD.  Second guessing anything people say makes it possible that they were wrong . . . what is the point in that?

     

    

A friend of mine just messaged me that her husband didn’t want to go outside of their place to get the mail last night for fear of being racially profiled.

    Such as that statement.  Maybe the man felt what he said he felt.  Or maybe he was afraid and his mind became vivid with imagination, or perhaps his own actions caused someone to take notice of him.  We don’t know.

     

    the literature on eye witness identification suggests that people cannot accurate identify people and in particular people of the opposite race.

    Did you actually say that?  The OPPOSITE race?  Is black the opposite of white?  East Indian the opposite of Native American?  Hispanic the opposite of Asian?  Jewish the opposite of Middle Eastern?  Opposite?  Is this really how you view race?

     

    

It is not just police who seem to disproportionately stop African Americans and Hispanics, but it is the treatment from ordinary citizens that heighten this discomfort.

    That’s probably true.

    “I only followed because it was very sketchy”

    The woman who saw the car talked of “sketchy”.  My danger meter is much more attuned to “sketch” than race.  In Davis, I do take action to avoid “sketch” all the time, often in downtown, and most of that sketch is white.

    While it is easy to dismiss this assertion, a brief conversation with a black (or brown) person will yield many stories of how they experience this suspicion in a variety of ways.

    I am not dismissing that experience.  I am sure it is true.  All over the country.  Not just in Davis.  I am aware of it.  I’ve been aware of that since the 60’s.  What I’m not sure is what you want done about it.  Are you just trying to raise awareness that the experience of people of color, however you define that, is different that for people not of color?  Is awareness enough, is that your ultimate goal here?  Is there something you want changed that would change this, that would make people who cross the street due to sighting a person of color — not cross the street?

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