by Jiles Wallace
Three twelve-year-old boys are hanging out in the parking lot of an apartment complex. A police car comes screeching into the parking lot, two white officers jump out with guns drawn. They order them to prone out and place their hands on their head. One officer holsters his weapon and approaches them cautiously, while his partner holds them at gunpoint. All of the suspects are thoroughly searched and found to be in possession of eight Jolly Ranchers, two Tootsie Rolls, and a pack of gum, oh yeah! They just happen to be black.
If you cannot identify with this scenario, you are most likely white, and you haven’t experienced the systematic micro- and macro-aggressions directed towards minorities in this country. When we turn on the TV, we don’t see positive images of ourselves. When we go to school, we aren’t taught our history. When we enter a store, chances are we’ll be followed and/or watched by security. These micro-aggressions may seem harmless at first glance, but when examined closely the relationship between micro- and macro-aggressions becomes clear. For instance, the symbolic idea or belief that white is good, and black is bad. This idea/belief is interwoven into the fabric of America; brides wear white and widows wear black, the good guys sport white hats like the Lone Ranger and criminals wear black like Johnny Cash, etc. On a surface level this symbolic idea/belief seems harmless, but nothing is further from the truth. In fact, this micro-aggression is actually the cause of macro-aggressions. If a person holds the idea/belief that white is good and black is bad, it is going to influence their values, attitudes, and behaviors. The slave trade, segregation, racial profiling, police brutality, etc., are proof that macro-aggressions are often the manifestations of micro-aggressions. This relationship begins with small cognitive/emotional aggressions, and progresses to large external aggressions. It’s a systematic problem. White police officers do not shoot and kill unarmed minorities because they are a threat. They shoot and kill unarmed minorities because they perceive them to be dangerous based on their own racist beliefs/ideas.
In other words, the fact that they are unarmed does not make them any less of a threat. What makes them dangerous is the color of their skin, and the racial stereotypes associated with it. For example: In the state of Florida a teenage boy named Travon Martin was walking home from the store after buying a pack of Skittles. He was approached by an overzealous member of the local neighborhood watch who asked him what he was doing in their neighborhood. Travon Martin kept on walking towards his house; all the while being followed by the stranger who approached him. At some point a confrontation took place and Travon Martin was shot and killed by the local neighborhood watch member. This case received a lot of media coverage because it posed a question that still has yet to be answered: How does a teenage boy walking home from the store after buying a pack of Skittles get shot and killed by the local neighborhood watch? He wasn’t a gang member. He was unarmed and he had done nothing wrong whatsoever. Why was he being followed? It is clear that this member of the local neighborhood watch viewed him as dangerous, although he was unarmed and much smaller than him. What I found really confusing is the fact that a jury found the neighborhood watch member not guilty in the murder of Travon Martin under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. He was the aggressor, not Travon Martin. He initiated the confrontation, not Travon Martin. Travon Martin was followed, approached, shot, and killed simply for being black. The micro-aggressions in this case led to macro-aggressions. I can see their interconnectedness, and hear the message loud and clear: If you’re white you are right, if you’re yellow you are mellow, if you’re brown stick around, if you’re black—get back!
Why is it legal for cops to stop twelve-year-old black boys and frisk them at gunpoint? Why is it okay for cops to racially profile minorities, and pull them over just for being black or Hispanic? Imagine what would happen if cops started racially profiling white people and pulling them over because of their race. What would happen if they stopped twelve-year-old white boys and frisked them at gunpoint? I’ll tell you what would happen. All across the United States there would be public outcry. Mainstream America would see this as an attack on their beliefs and values. However, it’s considered to be an important crime-fighting tool when it’s done to minorities. What does that say? What message does that send? What kind of environment does that create? Those are the questions we need to be asking, regardless of how uncomfortable they make us.
In the United States, the message being sent to minorities is, “You don’t matter; you aren’t valued; you don’t belong and we don’t trust you because you aren’t one of us.” It’s not hard to imagine the psychological, emotional, and spiritual effect that has on minorities, specifically young males. They are often criminalized at an early age, and treated like dangerous thugs way before they ever commit a crime. It’s no wonder so many of them grow up to be exactly what they’ve been conditioned to believe they are—menaces to society. I am one of them.
Republished from “Perspectives from the Cell Block: An Anthology of Prisoner Writings” – edited by Joan Parkin in collaboration with incarcerated people from Mule Creek State Prison.