There I was at the Hertz car rental desk trying to decide whether to be shuttled to another location to get a car there or take one of the three red vehicles they had in stock to fill my reservation. The woman sitting in the only chair in the place was also waiting for service from the one employee working in this small branch.
“They are good cars,” the attendant told me. “And I still have to take this woman back to her house.”
I looked back at the seated black woman, who looked to be in her forties but, per all rules of black-don’t-crack-dom, was old enough to be my mother for sure. She looked back at me and shook her head.
“You have children don’t you?”
“One of them is a son?”
She nodded again.
“And you would veto him driving around Los Angeles in a shiny red rental wouldn’t you?”
She nodded with emphasis. “I’m in no rush. I can wait for you to get the other car.”
Our conversation of few sentences in even fewer minutes underlines a problem that every woman of color with a son in America understands. I have statistically higher chance of being pulled over for driving while black, and red cars are more likely to attract police. So this woman sat proxy for my mother, who would do anything to mitigate the chances of my being shot by cops.
I’ve been raised my whole life with intel on how to thwart this possibility. They've happened before, the shootings that go unpunished with scarce atonement.
So I was not surprised about the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict Wilson. I was there in Los Angeles 20 years ago when, despite the most readily available form of laymen-made footage, four cops were acquitted of the heinous Rodney King beating. I got to sit in P.E. and listen to the adjunct explain why this was not excessive force, argue that it was instead deserved because Rodney resisted arrest. With Ferguson, we have graduated from beating to murder. But the fundamental systemic scaffold that made acquittal possible during my teens is firmly in place now.
It is why, in the spirit of keeping my discourse above shoddy laws and decrepit legal proceedings, I said to my black friends disgruntled with “Dear White People” that incorporating a sociopolitical definition of racism into the narrative is not mundane or redundant. Sure, the murder of Michael Brown would be no less devastating to his mother if they were white; the human tragedy looms regardless. But until we see this narrative on the national news with opposite gunman/victim race ID's, we cannot ignore the conversation about the evils of racism as if it does not include power and majority as qualifiers.
It is why, in the spirit of dousing hypocrisy with integrity, I have rallied for a more comprehensive lens through which history can include completely black participation in the erection of America, instead of a decision every February of how much “black history” we will teach. Meanwhile, Texas housed talks of removing slavery from the history curriculum across the state within days of the Oscar-winning “Twelve Years a Slave.”
It is why no, Iggy Azalea, you cannot use the N word.
It is why I can find no logic with which to pooh-pooh conspiracy theories that the flagrant lack of consequence for Wilson is in direct proportion to the profuse enmity engorged by many about Obama's White House residence. No legal friend has been able to provide me with an explanation for why prosecutors would pass on such an easy victory.
It is why the irony and atrocity of black men being perceived as threats continues to make me laugh and cry in tandem.
This is not new conversation, and we are not done having it. Since racial lines are starting to get blurred by a generation uninterested in adhering to whatever segregationist ideals their parents or grandparents might have recommended, the Michael Brown archetypal tragedy will soon not belong only to the black community. And while the problem is clearly ours now, the profound diversity of protesters indicates to me that our anger is shared.
Speaking of color, it’s not true about red cars. Insurance companies report that the highest incidence of drivers ticketed involve gray vehicles. Before Monday, I would have relegated my renting paradigms to paranoia.
Timothy Stansbury Jr.
I will not rent red cars.