“The lady doth protest too much, methinks” was originally a quote in Act III, Scene II of Hamlet. However, it has become part of modern usage to suggest that a person’s overly frequent and vehement efforts to convince others that something is not true can ironically help convince them that the opposite is true.
That is how I increasingly feel about the discussion of race and racism in Davis. The very suggestion that there might be a racial issue brings a strong cascade of denials.
One clear example was the mother who came forward on Tuesday at the Davis city council meeting – clearly at the end of her rope for attempting to deal with problems at her six-year-old daughter’s school.
While the mother did not provide specifics, things became clearer when the mother said, “She has learned to identify herself in ways of her ethnicity, which I didn’t teach her,” and “I was pretty surprised by some of the things she was saying.”
“Just this semester she began labeling herself as well as others,” she continued. “I’ve never taught her that before. She’s been teased regarding her hair, amongst other things.”
The mother continued, “She has also been treated differently by her teachers and her principal.”
It is very clear from this context that she is talking about race.
What is interesting to me is the response. One response is to separate the racial component and to call it “a bully problem.” Or, as one person put it, “You know she was bullied because of race how?” Later they would say, “How would identifying this as race-based help solve the bullying issue? How would that change what needs to be done?”
They would later acknowledge, “There could be a racial component, but I didn’t really see it in the story. Why are others so fast to jump aboard and claim racism?”
It was an interesting jump there because suddenly the discussion went from “based on race” to “racial component” to “racism.” Later they said, “ I just didn’t see enough in the story to come to the conclusion that it’s about racism.”
As another person put it, there are “a whole lot of good, decent people who aren’t racists and who don’t label people,” “a few racist (bad word),” and “a few people who label everyone and claim Davis is a racist community and claim every incident that might be racist based IS racist based.”
The problem that we have is that, for the most part, the individual above is correct – there are very few overtly racist people left in this community. It is no longer socially acceptable to favor segregation or discrimination on the basis of race.
What I see instead is much more subtle, and I think on Saturday at the Breaking the Silence event, Teresa Geimer hit the nail on the head. She said, “The light came on, if it doesn’t happen to you, these subtle things, you don’t see them. But if it’s happening to you, it’s a slap in the face each time.”
Ten years ago or so, I would have been like Alan Miller. I had not personally experienced differential treatment on the basis of race, nor had I observed it.
I remember my wife’s niece coming to visit, complaining about being followed by the police. When 2006 happened with the police issues, I came into contact with a large number of people of color and slowly their stories came together to form a very different picture of Davis than the one I knew previously or had personally experienced.
Many people of color, if not most, have a story about racial profiling or at least what seemed to them to be racial profiling. Many had stories of differential treatment in places of business. Many African-American students at UC Davis have told me that they feel extremely uncomfortable going into Davis because of how they are treated.
So, you may ask, how is a highly progressive community that voted over 85% for Barack Obama racist?
What I see is a largely white and upper middle class community that likes to think of themselves as progressive on issues of race ‒ they even take pride in voting for the first black President ‒ but closer to home things get a little tricky.
I think what is experienced in Davis is more subtle and subconscious. But it is there and, when it happens all the time, it becomes very noticeable and increasingly offensive. For a lot of people, they end up moving away from Davis because they feel more comfortable elsewhere.
The story I told on Saturday was about Eli Davis. In May 2013, Mr. Davis was mowing his lawn in front of his home in West Davis when a police officer approached him and asked him if he lived there and then requested ID.
By itself this would not have been a big deal. However, as Assistant Chief Darren Pytel has pointed out, often there is a long history in some of the complaints and it is not the current issue that is really the problem, but the accumulated history of police-citizen interactions.
Mr. Davis, by all accounts is a quiet, private and unassuming man. But something finally pushed him over the edge and compelled him to write about what to him must have been a huge indignity to be approached in front of his home and made to feel like he was being accused of being a criminal based only on his race.
As I pointed out, this was likely not the first time something like this had happened to him. The first few times, subtle as they were, he probably did what many of our readers have done in these articles – shrugged it off. But after ten, twenty, thirty times, as Teresa Geimer put it, it becomes a slap in the face each time until the breaking point.
Was the officer in Eli Davis’ case racist? I don’t believe so. More likely, the officer used poor judgment in choosing to question a 60-something-year-old man mowing his lawn, and then compounded it by not taking the time to explain his actions and being more abrupt than necessary.
My point here is that I do not believe that Davis is so much racist as indifferent. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of how their interactions breed discomfort.
But, as someone pointed out to me this week, part of the problem is denial that we have a problem. And when the reaction to every single article dealing with race is denial, whether it is Ferguson or locally, that feeds into the community perception of indifference.
When a mother comes forward to complain about the treatment of her child, the instant reaction shouldn’t be – it’s bullying, not racism. The reaction should be that the mother feels that her daughter was wronged, let us figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Anything else really just feeds into the perception that this is a community in denial and that the community doth protest too much, even when no one said it was racism.
—David M. Greenwald reporting