A young black man runs from a young white cop who just caught him trying to break into an office building late at night. The chase leads them to a pitch-dark town square.
“Drop the weapon,” the officer demands. “I said, ‘Drop it!’ Look, I don’t want to shoot you, but I will. For the last time, drop the gun.”
The suspect turns around, hands up, still holding onto what the cop thinks is a gun. He’s wearing a hoodie. It’s too dark for the police officer to see clearly what’s in his right hand, too dark to make out the features of his face. He may or may not realize the young man halfway across the square is black.
The young white cop shoots. The young black man falls to the ground.
It’s not until he runs over to the fallen suspect and turns him over that the cop, J.J. Devereaux, realizes the youth he just gunned down is Theo Carver, the brother of his girlfriend and police partner, as well as the son of the city’s mayor. As for the weapon, well, it wasn’t even a gun. It was an electronic device used to override security systems.
Further complicating matters, J.J. and Theo are both from prominent families in the fictional midwestern town of Salem. They’ve known each other all their lives. As I write this, Theo is in a coma, and J.J. is on suspension pending an internal affairs investigation but not permanently out of a job. Oh, and he’s spiraling.
Daytime soaps typically won’t touch racism with anything shorter than a 10-foot pole. Interracial relationships have become fairly common and are rarely, if ever, commented on. (Theo’s girlfriend, like his sister’s boyfriend, is white.) That makes this part of the story, which commenced with that single gunshot on November 17, a significant one. It’s the most socially relevant tale “Days of Our Lives” has told since it became the first soap to feature a legal gay wedding in 2014. It echoes a headline that has become all too familiar: “White Cop Shoots Unarmed Black Man... and Gets Away with It.”
The only difference is that for two weeks after the shooting, the writers, in modern soap fashion, didn’t really play the race card. There was already plenty of interpersonal drama to be mined without making race an issue. J.J. felt like crap because he shot an unarmed man ― his girlfriend’s brother, his boss’s son, a guy he’d known since the kid was born. What did race even have to do with it?
Then last week happened. The best moment of the storyline so far arrived during the December 1 episode, when the writers and characters finally addressed the elephant in Theo’s hospital room. The conversation between Eli, a black cop who is J.J.’s cousin, and Gabi, the woman Eli is dating (the third of four current interracial relationships on Days). She’s Latina, and she used to be with J.J.
Gabi: “So this is J.J.’s fault? Why is this J.J.’s fault?... I’m sorry, I don’t think he did anything wrong.”
Eli: “Except shoot an unarmed kid.”
Gabi: “He thought that Theo had a gun. He told him to freeze. I think he deserves a chance to protect himself.”
Eli: “He had a responsibility to read the situation correctly.”
Gabi: “He didn’t know that it was Theo. J.J. caught him breaking into an office building.”
Eli: “So, for that, Theo deserves to get shot?”
Gabi: “Of course not. He just didn’t know that it was Theo. He thought that it was somebody who was actually dangerous.”
Eli: “And why was that?”
Gabi: “Because he thought that he was holding a gun, and he was breaking into an office building.”
Eli: “Maybe J.J. only thought it was a gun because the person holding it was a black kid in a hoodie.”
Gabi: “Are you calling J.J. a racist?”
Eli: “Look, I’m just calling it like I see it.”
Gabi: “I think it’s ridiculous. I mean, he’s got a black girlfriend.”
Eli: “What? You think that means he can’t have a racial bias?”
Gabi: “J.J. does not have a racial bias.”
Eli: “Wait, hold on, hold on. I’m not saying he’s a card-carrying white supremacist. I’m just wondering if he would have pulled the trigger so fast if the suspect would have been white.”
Eli: “Gabi, you can’t really believe that. I mean, come on. You of all people should understand.”
Gabi: “OK, why is that? Is it because I’m a Latina?”
Eli: “This is about the world that we live in. Look at how many young African-Americans in this country are shot, and then the media goes and portrays them as thugs like they deserve what happens to them.”
Gabi: “No one is saying that.”
Eli: “Meanwhile, young white criminals get nothing but excuses. They’re just kids being kids.”
Gabi: “That is not J.J.”
Eli: “You don’t think that in the back of J.J.’s mind, a black kid in a hoodie might signal danger? It’s dark out. He’s alone. And his heart is racing...”
Gabi: “OK, enough! OK, stop! Stop, because you do not know J.J. like I know him.”
Eli: “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’ve just seen too many white cops getting away with using excessive force on black victims.”
Tell it like it is, brother.
It’s quite possible that J.J., who was gunned down and nearly killed on the job last year by a white villain, would have shot the suspect even if he had known the suspect was white. He definitely wouldn’t have fired if he’d known it was Theo. But Eli dropped a truth bomb that needed to explode. If ″Days” were real, someone would have set it off much sooner, likely Theo’s father, Abe Carver.
Gabi’s reaction was as true to reality as Eli’s. What many Caucasians just don’t ― or won’t ― grasp about racism, especially when it hits too close to home, is that it takes on so many different forms. It’s not just about attending alt-right rallies or screaming “White lives matter, too!” It can be in a look, a gesture, a throwaway comment, a gunshot in the night fired by a white man who happens to be sleeping with a black woman.
I once was in love with a guy who made a vaguely racial comment while we were cleaning up after dinner. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but I clearly recall his response when I semi-jokingly called him out on it.
“Yeah, I just had your cock in my mouth, and I’m a racist,” he said sarcastically before leaning over to kiss me.
Touche, I thought, and chuckled in agreement. Of course, he wasn’t racist. He was giving me nightly blow jobs and telling me how much he loves me afterward.
“...physical attraction to someone of a different race and racist impulses are not mutually exclusive,"”
If only I knew then what I’m certain of now. I’m not saying my ex was a card-carrying white supremacist or that what he said was even racist. I think he loved me and respected me. I think when he looked at me, he saw me and not my race. But that awareness didn’t automatically absolve him of having a racial bias.
Since we broke up, I’ve been called the N-word by enough white, Latino, and Asian men who had previously been hitting on me to realize that physical attraction to someone of a different race and racist impulses are not mutually exclusive. Scores of slave owners who regularly bedded their slaves regularly proved it historically.
I’m glad “Days of Our Lives” allowed two of its characters to have this uncomfortable but crucial conversation. It’s one blacks have been having for decades and one many non-blacks have preferred not to have.
For them, racism is something that’s always inflicted by someone else, affecting someone else. To the credit and credibility of ″Days’“writers, led by head scribe Ron Carlivati, they weren’t afraid to show us otherwise. Racist isn’t just the default setting of the openly bigoted. It affects and afflicts us all.