One bit of rhetoric or “wisdom” (as I’m sure they perceive it) is that Black people should adapt to their racist environment and merely “comply” with police if they want their lives to matter. I have to be frank and say that shitty ass logic should be jettisoned to the end of the Solar System. And Pluto would probably send it back to us because of how filthy and wrong of an idea it is. Adaptation to a racist environment will not stop the bullets of a cop and it will not stop the inhuman views of people who willingly choose to see Black people as “less than”. Let’s run through some of these strategies and see exactly what we’re looking at.
Adaptation Strategy #1: Drive a Cheaper Car
So Chris Rock was in the news recently for the many times he was pulled over by police in a phenomena many of us know as “Driving While Black” (it’s a crime in 50 states didn’t ya know?). Don Lemon (aka one of the biggest idiots we’re unfortunately going to have to deal with for the next ten years) had Isiah Washington on his CNN “show” (I use that term SO loosely) and Washington suggested that Rock should “adapt” and drive a cheaper car. The suggestion is basically to help avoid the stereotype of black people with expensive cars being seen as drug dealers.
Let’s follow the logic here. So driving an expensive car creates more police interaction then the inverse should be true and driving a less expensive car should create less police interaction. This adaptation strategy is so painfully easy to call BS on because by that logic no poor black neighbor should have any traffic stops occurring. Yet, statistics on police traffic stops show again and again that it is black drivers that are more routinely stopped. And I seriously doubt these are all Bentleys and Jaguars getting pulled over.
It is not the make of our car, but the color of our skin that automatically makes us suspicious. And let’s get to the real root of why Black people in expensive cars are thought to have drug dealings. That belief stems from the racist view that Blacks ultimately cannot generally be successful without it being handed to us, garnering the success through illegal means or just happening to be one of the few to “make it out”. The middle-class, educated Black American does not exist in the country’s psyche and if it does it’s only there as a rarity.
That is the attitude that should be changed. Not the make of our cars.
In a nutshell: I drive a car. I will get pulled over more. End of story.
Adaptation Strategy #2: Dress Respectfully
This is one I see frequently thrown around when it comes to sagging pants, baggy clothes and even hair styles like dreadlocks (looking at you Anthony Mackie). The idea behind this is that if we are more “presentable” then it’s less likely we’ll encounter racist attitudes in our daily lives. Do you smell that? That’s the horse shit piling up from every time someone has opened their mouth to spit that lie out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a fan of dirty underwear exposed in public. But the idea that this style of dress has somehow contributed to racist reactions and attitudes just isn’t true.
As I often point out to people, if this logic was true then Martin Luther King and participants in the Civil Rights Movement would have had the red carpet laid out for them and The President would have had a gala waiting for them to celebrate signing The Civil Rights Act. Because if dressing properly somehow deflects racism then you have to look no further than MLK to find the “appropriate” attire. He was dressed in a suit quite often and the people who marched with him were in their Sunday’s best. Yet, they were still hosed down in the street like animals and had vicious dogs set loose on them. Their manner of dress had absolutely no effect on the racism that was unleashed upon them.
Let’s take it back further. Look at the 20s and the style of fashion in that time. If dressing nice is somehow a “racism blocker” then Langston Hughes should have won back to back Pulitzers and Bumpy Johnson should have had twenty years on City Council. But that’s not how it worked. Our manner of dress does not give us humanity in a racist society and it shouldn’t be the thing by which anyone’s worth as a person is measured anyway.
In a nutshell: I can catch a bullet in a white tee or a Polo shirt. My life is valued the same either way.
Adaptation Strategy #3: Speak Articulately
I hear this one a lot and as an aspiring writer, I do value language and using it well. And it would be foolish to suggest that communication skills aren’t vital in many areas of life. But it’s not just Black people that suffer this misbegotten “wisdom”. It’s also levelled at Latinos, Asians and generally anyone with the status of immigrant. It would seem in America that if you want your life to be valued, you have to be able to speak “proper” English. We would probably have a lot less problems with world relations if we approached learning another language with the same vigor, but that’s another topic.
The problem with this particular adaptation is that Blacks who are considered to fit the bill suffer through their own racist indignities. You’re often told that you’re “different” (particularly when an individual or group of white people are criticizing your racial group and you walk into the room). You hear that “you speak so well”, implying that so many others of your kind they met haven’t. In essence, you become like that animal in the zoo that everyone wants to “ooo” and “aahh” at because you’re so rare. It is humiliating when you’re constantly treated like some anomaly that shouldn’t exist.
And let us not forget the example of Martese Johnson, a well-spoken college student, who still found his head bashed into the ground. Or Kam Brock, a woman of executive level status, who was placed in a psych ward against her will for saying President Obama followed her on Twitter among other things. I’m sure this woman was very well-spoken and her humanity was still utterly disregarded.
Not speaking “properly” certainly comes with a unique set of perceptions and racist viewpoints, but fitting the notion of what it means to “speak articulately” is just trading in those perceptions for a set of new ones. And let’s be real, if speaking properly was really that important to the American people we would not have had George W. Bush in office twice.
In a Nutshell: The words that come out of my mouth cannot and should not determine the level of racism I experience.
I don’t want to drag on too long, but the problem with telling people what to do to avoid racism is essentially blaming the victim. We did not create the racist infrastructure that exists in this country today and somehow it ends up on our doorstep to “adapt” to it. But the problem with adapting is the idea that somehow racism is a fluctuating thing that only applies to a certain type of “person” within that racial group. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never heard the KKK say they only disliked Black people with baggy pants. Hitler didn’t say he only wanted to eradicate Blacks that spoke badly.
What needs to be fixed isn’t the perceived actions and behaviors of Black people. What needs to be changed is a system that allows those misguided notions to take root and have validity in the first place.