“ Tokens of Humanity”

Op-ed-: Why do people of color always have to go the extra mile to prove their humanity?

A man of color named D’Arreion Toles lived in a luxury apartment in downtown Missouri. He was trying to get into his apartment and was blocked trying to enter his apartment by a white woman that worked there. She was asking questions and harassing him. He decided to prove his innocence by recording her. Because of technology he was able to send that video through social media. It resulted in that woman getting fired and letting society know that racism still exists in 2018.

There was an incident where a white female police officer named Amber Guyer, went into the wrong apartment and shoots a man of color named Botham Jean. He was shot and died because of the officer’s negligence, and there has been outrage all over the U.S.. There was a backlash because Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall is a black woman and she made an excuse not to fire the officer, knowing the officer was wrong. She stated that firing Guyer would compromise the criminal investigation, and that there had to be an investigation with Dallas Police and the Texas Rangers before she can act. After public pressure, Guyer was fired and waiting for trial.

These two situations had different outcomes but come from the same mindset. Both white women enacted racial hegemony over these black men to prove that they belonged in their own homes. Because they had white privilege, these two women could force the black men to show that they belonged.

These situations show fear on both sides, an ideology of dehumanizing. There is a moment of transference in which each person is both the victim and the predator. Society defines who has which role in the story. Police usually rely on their favorite social/cultural images. They are conditioned to think of black men as less than human. Such that black men have to prove their humanity. People with white privilege don’t need to show their humanity/innocence. Black people can gain money, status, wealth, but still, aren’t perceived as belonging in wealthy white spaces. Unless you’re well-known, like Dr. Ben Carson, Barack Obama, Jay-Z. The recent incident with D’ Arreion Toles shows, how just having money isn’t enough.

A couple of years ago I was accused of robbing a black woman, as I walked outside my house. I was on my way to the store to buy juice because I was thirsty. I was surrounded by cops and feared for my life. There were guns pointed at me, and I thought I was going to die that day. I was also handcuffed and the neighbors in my community were outside watching the incident. But because I had been educated about what to do, I did not die. I was released after the black woman said I was the wrong guy. I was stopped a couple of other times after that in my neighborhood due to racial profiling.

I spoke to a friend of mines who is a cop and discussed this issue with him. Every year he gives me a PBA shield with his badge number and contact information for my safety. Since then, I put together a toolkit of “Tokens of Humanity” to prove worth to cops in the future. IDs, ties to Columbia, PBA card from friend, clothing. I always have my Columbia University ID, PBA card, and drivers license in case I am stopped by police. I also used clothing to symbolize professionalism. I started to buy clothing and other items from Brooks Brothers, J. Press, and Polo Ralph Lauren.

I knew that these stores were for the socially elite, but I had to look the part even though I was not wealthy. I started wearing “preppy” clothing to my field placement. I bought penny loafers, chino pants, repp ties, and oxford shirts. I had to use “politics of respectability” to be respected. To be respected you had to dress a certain way. The old term “uppity” as a protection, but a sad one. The need to symbolize being a man of color “Doing the right thing.” I always must symbolize that I am a man of color that is doing the right thing.

Using classism to combat racism is sad, but it works. Classism doesn’t make racism vanish but it provides protection against it. This ideology is tied to the American Dream. Hard work is essential, but it’s not enough without resources to back it up. This is true for Barack Obama and Dr. Ben Carson who had resources and became socially elite in society.

Society should watch how it judges people of color when they’re in privileged white spaces. To what extent does money diminish racism, and do we want that as a society? Do we want to make people of color use money to prove their humanity?

Every day I must walk around with the PBA card, my Columbia ID, and driver’s licenseꟷꟷ3 tokens of humanityꟷꟷWhat more can I do to prove my humanity in this world?