My imagination gets me into trouble sometimes. Interestingly enough, it was off recently, just when I could have used it.
I got pulled over the other day when I was driving.
I was only worried about one thing.
I did not worry about getting harassed by the police officer. I did not worry about being treated disrespectfully. I did not worry about being ordered, lawfully or unlawfully, to exit my car. I did not worry about being handcuffed. I didn't worry about being thrown to the ground. I didn't worry about a gun pointed to my head. I didn't worry about my car being searched. I did not worry about being arrested.
I did not worry about losing my liberty, my dignity, my freedom and I certainly did not worry about losing my life because I was pulled over by a police officer.
So yeah, I'm white.
And I've always been white. So I don't know what it's like to worry about any of those things when it comes to the police. For me, personally, the police have always felt safe to me.
I'm white and I'm a woman.
Neither of those things make me stupid.
They don't make me uninformed.
I can see what's going on in this country, just like anyone who has their eyes open, and their defenses down. When is it enough? How many black people need to be killed? To become an epidemic? To become a national problem? To become an emergency? To matter?
You know we're there. You know we are. And the defenses that all lives matter is actually not the point. White people aren't being killed in situations with police at the rate that black people are- they simply aren't.
I have a great imagination. Unfortunately in this case, not great enough. Because even my great imagination probably only gives me the tiniest of percentage of understanding how that encounter would have felt to a black person. Even if the encounter had gone safely and sanely, I can only imagine the overriding fear that I would have felt as a person of color being pulled over. I can only imagine the bile in my belly, the dryness in my throat, the horrifying possibilities running through my mind while I tried to obey directions I was being given.
Do you know what I count on to help me realize what it must feel like to a person of color to be confronted by a police officer? What it would feel like to be accosted on an empty street and be afraid of being raped. How careful am I to avoid that kind of situation? Very, very careful. These are not my feelings about police.
I count on my imagination and my empathy to overcome my white privilege. And of course they can't. Of course they do not. Do not. I'm quite sure that there is no way to exclude my own previous life experiences and then insert myself in another person's life experiences. I can only imagine how I might feel. I can't know how I would feel. And I don't know how YOU feel.
I'm going to keep reaching for it though, by listening. By imagining. By assuming that I don't and can't understand. I'm going to say that while all lives matter, it's not all lives that are at risk right now. I don't worry about my daughter's getting hurt by police. Not only are they women, they are white women, just like me. Maybe I am stupid. Maybe I should worry. Maybe I should worry about them being hurt or killed because of the escalating violence in this country.
I can only imagine being the mother of a black man. It scares me just imagining it. It makes me want to cry to think that any mother, father, brother, sister, needs to worry about their child, their family member getting hurt by the people we pay to protect us.
This is not about police bashing. I support our police. Again, I can only imagine what it must be like to have to make a decision about whether they are safe or whether they need to shoot to protect themselves, in an eighth of a second. But please, how much clearer does it have to be that so many of these killings are just that? Killings? Is it about the police being afraid? Isn't it more likely that it's about racism? And isn't racism the same as fear, cloaked as ignorance and even hate? Can't we just let that be the truth? In a disproportionate way, white, male police officers are killing black people. We can see that, can't we? We can be unafraid enough to say that is the truth, can't we?
Because if we can't, it cannot change. It will not change, regardless of how much we want it to, because without awareness of the real problem -- racism -- it will not change.
I asked the police officer why he pulled me over. I challenged him about whether his reason was valid. And then I looked at him and asked him how it would have gone if I had been a 24-year-old black man in a late model car.
It's a conversation that we have to have. Asking that question, letting him know that while he felt safe enough with me, he needed to consider his feeling of safety with someone of color. Why is that so scary?
My imagination hard at work still doesn't get past the racism piece. How scared are we all?
And I'm going to keep imagining. And listening. And speaking when it feels relevant and appropriate.
I'm white. I'm a woman. And I'm looking to be in this conversation because we all need to be.
It's my responsibility. And it is the very least I can do.
Scary or not. Terrifying or not.