When black people wake up and begin the day, we have a wide range of issues we have to think about before leaving our homes. Will a police officer kill us today? Or, will some George Zimmerman vigilante see us as a threat in our own neighborhoods and kill us? We brace ourselves for those white colleagues who are pissed Barack Obama won both elections and take out their racist rage on us. When we drive our cars, we have to wonder if we’ll be pulled over because our cars look too expensive for a black person to be driving. If we’re poor and sick, we wonder if we’ll be able to be treated for our illness. We have a lot on our minds, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.
Here are a few examples of things we have to be afraid of that white people don’t (or not nearly as much).
1. Getting fired because we don’t fit into white cultural norms. Rhonda Lee, an African American meteorologist who worked at a Louisiana TV station wore her hair in a natural hairstyle one viewer found offensive. “The black lady that does the news is a very nice lady. The only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. I’m not sure if she is a cancer patient. But still it’s not something myself that I think looks good on TV,” the viewer wrote on the station’s Facebook page.
After Lee posted a respectful reply to the man’s insulting remark, she was fired for violating the station’s social media policy, even though she wasn’t made aware there was one. It took her nearly two years to find a new job. She has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the station that is still pending.
Another example: In 2013, Melphine Evans, a British Petroleum executive, was fired from the company’s La Palma, Calif. location because, she says, she wore a dashiki and her hair in braids. She sued for racial discrimination. In her 24-page lawsuit, Evans claims her supervisor told her that, “You intimidate and make your colleagues uncomfortable by wearing ethnic clothing and ethnic hairstyles.”
“If you are going to wear ethnic clothing, you should alert people in advance that you will be wearing something ethnic,” Evans says she was told, according to the lawsuit.
These are just two examples of ways black people are treated if they don’t perm their hair, dress in a way white bosses deem “professional,” or conduct themselves in a way that is “non-threatening” to their white colleagues.
2. Encountering a police officer who may kill us.ProPublica reports that black males stand a 21 times greater chance of being killed by cops than their white counterparts. What’s more, a 2005 study reveals that police officers are more likely to shoot an unarmed black person than an armed white suspect. Madame Noire created a list of at least 10 armed white men who aggressively brandished weapons or even shot at police yet were taken into custody alive. Black women aren’t treated any better, as this list by Gawker demonstrates.
There is a reason black people bristle when a white person says, “#AllLivesMatter” during a #BlackLivesMatter discussion. In the eyes of many police, clearly all lives don’t matter.
3. Not being able to get a job. The black unemployment rate has been twice the rate of unemployment for whites, basically forever. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013, the unemployment rate for black Americans has been about double that of whites since 1954.
The current unemployment rate is 5.7 percent overall. For white people, it’s 4.9 percent; the percentage is 10.3 for AfricanAmericans, a little more than double.
Not much has changed for us since the ’50s, has it?
4. Our daughters being expelled from school because of “zero tolerance policies.” According to a 2015 report titled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” that analyzed Department of Education data from the New York City and Boston school districts, 12 percent of black girls were subjected to exclusionary suspensions compared to just 2 percent of white girls. In New York City, during the 2011-2012 school year, 90 percent of all girls subject to expulsion were black. No white girls were suspended that year.
Let that marinate for a minute. Before you do, data from the Department of Education reports that “black children make up just 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children suspended more than once.”
The black kids aren’t being suspended simply because they aren’t as well-behaved as the white children.
5. We are much more likely to be harassed by police than by white residents in NYC. Though the NYPD has legally put an end to its racist stop-and-frisk policy, the department’s “Broken Windows” policy is in full effect. What the policy does is arrest people for smoking small amounts of pot, peeing on the streets, riding a bike on a sidewalk, selling cigarettes on the corner and other minor offenses. Between 2001 and 2013, roughly 81 percent of the summonses issued have been to African Americans and Latinos, according to the New York Daily News. Most of the arrests were made in black and Latino neighborhoods, as if white people never pee on the sidewalk or smoke pot on their stoops.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton swears by the policy, saying it keeps the city safe. Eric Garner, who was apprehended for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, likely wouldn’t agree. He died after an officer on the scene put him in a chokehold.
Every black person walking the streets of New York City knows he or she could be the next Eric Garner. That’s not just a fear, it’s our reality.
6. Being bullied at work. Fifty-four percent of African Americans claim to be victims of workplace bullying compared to 44 percent of white respondents, according to the 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey.
A recent example of workplace bullying comes from Portland, Oregon, where two current and two former black employees of Daimler Trucks North America are suing the company for $9.4 million. Joseph Hall, 64, says half a dozen white employees threatened him with violence, wrote graffiti showing “hangman’s nooses” at his job, and placed chicken bones in his black co-worker’s locker. There’s much more ugly racism alleged in the case, if you have the stomach to read it.
Black people who just want to earn an honest buck sometimes have to put up with crap like this.
7. Being pulled over by the police. Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, according to the Washington Post. We fear this pretty much every time we enter our vehicles. Sure, we sometimes violate traffic traffic laws. But we get stopped even when we don’t.
8. Being accused of shoplifting when we’re shopping. Shopping while black can be pretty stressful. Just this week, a black NYPD officer filed a lawsuit alleging that employees at PC Richards & Son store, in Lawrence, N.J., harassed him for “shopping while black.” Sammari Malcolm, 40, of Brooklyn, says employees accused him of using a stolen credit card when he purchased $4,150.23 worth of electronics, even after showing his ID. Malcolm also claims store employees frisked him and detained him for two hours. He is seeking $5.75 million in damages. Sound familiar?
Perhaps you heard about the incident at Macy’s flagship Herald Square store, in Manhattan, where “Treme” actor Rob Brown was handcuffed and accused of using a fake credit card to buy his mother a $1,300 watch in June 2013. He filed a lawsuit against the store and the city of New York over the incident, which was settled in July 2014. In August, Macy’s paid $650,000 to settle a state probe into racial profiling allegations at the store. The store profiled and detained minorities at far higher rates than whites, according to the state’s investigation.
Money and success doesn’t shield us from racism. Even black celebrities are far from immune. Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker was racially profiled in February 2013, when he was falsely accused of stealing an item from a deli. An employee frisked him in front of other shoppers. The Academy Award winner didn’t sue, but he wasn’t happy about it.
9. Getting sick and not having access to health care. While African Americans have gained better access to healthcare since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, black people have less access to medical care than whites in core measures, according to data from the Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality. When we do gain access to care, it’s far worse than whites in 40 percent of core measures.
Much of this is tied to poverty, which disproportionately plagues African Americans.
10. Having white people say we’re exaggerating these issues. This isn’t so much a fear as a chronic and sometimes debilitating annoyance. It seems that no matter how much we can statistically demonstrate that racism is pervasive and damages us on many levels, there are white people who fight us tooth and nail with arguments that life is not as challenging for us as we say it is.
I’ve given up convincing white people about the harsh realities of my life as a black man. I’ll devote that energy to fighting for my black liberation in our very racist society.