We’re taught growing up, and it is formed into us, that America is “just.” That the police do their jobs. That the military acts with justice. That schools and churches teach truth. That citizens behave and protect one another. That the courts try only the important cases, and that the courts do the job so well that justice is done. (There is an entirely OTHER discussion about what it means when “courts administer justice.” But not here, not now.) That it’s safe to tell the truth, safe to love your neighbor, safe to do what ordinary folks do, things like jogging or shopping or driving or just satisfying the natural curiosity of “what’s happening over there?”
That feeling is so strong, and overrides so many of the things that we see and hear, that we can’t believe it isn’t this way for a lot of other people that we know of, but do not really know. Of course it’s safe and ordinary and normal to do the things that I do, because everybody can do them — your experience must be wrong, and your understanding completely mistaken. You weren’t stopped randomly for being Black — you legitimately had a broken taillight or didn’t use your signal or were hesitant at a stop. You weren’t targeted for harassment in a grocery because you’re Black. You were simply making suspicious moves that anyone would see as potential shoplifting. You weren’t weren’t denied a job that you thought you were qualified for just because you’re Black. They found someone more qualified, even though they have less experience and education, and they have their reasons for paying them more than you for doing the same job. You weren’t ignored by the waitstaff just because you’re Black. They were very busy and there was lots of confusion with all the people coming and going, so it was just a coincidence you were served slowly and your food was prepared poorly.
I’ve done this.
To my friends. Who are Black.
And the entire time I was speaking and reacting I thought I was doing the good thing, the honest thing, the needful thing. I was correcting my Black friends for their misunderstanding about white motives and actions. “It’s entirely in your heads.”