Every. Single. Time. I got a campus safety alert in college, I crossed my fingers and hoped it was not a black or brown man. I remember hearing people say to stay away from sketchy neighborhoods in Allentown, which at the time didn’t look too different from where I grew up. I heard people talk about going to White Wawa instead of Black Wawa or “Blawa.” Some people would drive out of their way to exclusively go to the former. These instances are a symptom of a larger problem, black and brown bodies being seen as dangerous. Police brutality is a symptom of this problem. (If you really still need convincing of this, please look at the countless “shoot, don’t shoot” studies. But know that right now, I’m not talking to you. I do not have the energy to convince people of the lived experiences of the people I love and care about.)
Think twice the next time you clutch your bag a little tighter when you walk past a black man on the street or suddenly remember to lock your car doors when you’re in a predominantly Black or Latino neighborhood. Consider what you’re really saying when you call a neighborhood sketchy. Seriously think about what it means if you’re one of the people pricing out its current residents because it’s cool and hip and cheap. This one hits home the hardest for me because please tell me why a neighborhood “getting better” equals getting Whiter? And where are the current residents going to go? Remember your role and own up to it. I know that I have the privilege of passing and this means I’m not assumed to be dangerous.
I woke up this morning and saw what happened in Dallas, and I got that same sinking feeling that I got whenever the campus safety suspect was described as black or brown. That feeling where you hope and pray that people’s confirmation biases aren’t going to sink in. The realization that because of these snipers, people might forget or discount everything else that’s happened and continues to happen. The problem is that for black and brown folks, it only takes one person to confirm people’s stereotypes. It takes one person to start with the respectability politics and justifications for why black and brown people don’t deserve to live. How many black lives lost did it take for people to come around and say maybe there’s something to this Black Lives Matter thing? I saw countless friends post for the first time yesterday that their eyes were opened, that they were angry, and that they wouldn’t be silent anymore. I’m now left wondering how many will change their mind.
Mourn the lives lost, but please don’t lose sight of what’s going on here every single day.
Nashalys is a 2013 alum of Muhlenberg College (and the Contemporary Racism Seminar). She is currently a Social Science Research Coordinator with Stanford University’s PERTS applied research in education program.