By Christopher Bear-Beam & Bill Beam
My family & I lived in the Houston, Texas from 1990 to 2004. We lived a couple of places in the Houston Metroplex, and finally found ourselves in the northern suburb of Houston, living in Spring, Texas.
During this period of time, I was engaged in anti-racism work, mainly through the auspices of the Center for the Healing of Racism, located in Houston. As time went by, I learned many things (unlearning & replacing old, racialized conditioning with accurate information & behaviors)-I also learned & dialogued with others about the many faces of Racism, Sexism, Stereotyping, Cultural Racism, Internalized Racism, Xenophobia, Hate Crimes & Hate Groups, Unaware Racism & Institutional Racism, and co-facilitated “Dialogue Groups” and training for other organizations & professionals.
I’m a very intuitional thinker & learner, so my decoders were open & mindful of actions, language, and non-verbal communication of many around the Isms that impacted & surrounded me in my world & community.
For part of this time, all three of our children lived with us in our home, until our oldest boy, Ted, moved out of the house to begin life at the University of Houston. So my youngest son, Bill, was witness, as well as my daughter, Liz, to some of the events in this story; at that time, to give this story some context, Bill was in his adolescence & early adult years. Usually, a time of chaotic upheaval in any family.
Of all our three children, Bill looked most like someone who may have been from the Middle East, or someone from the Latina/o ethnicity; Bill took after my dad, who was much darker skin-toned than my mom. My ex-wife’s ancestry was Germanic, and mine (on mom’s side) was the British Isles.
I wanted to share this story, because I think it illustrates how whites can be discriminative through association with those who don’t look like us, or even biased by the kind of clothing one wears or their appearance; many times whites may even “pass” to look like a white and not a person-of-color. Some of these factors relate to Classism.
This re-emphasizes the point of how deep these prejudices, biases & Racism go, because “arrested-due-to-being-with-an-African-American or Latina-American” may be another little known observation about one of the dynamics of Racism, and a huge cause for concern for citizens and police departments.
As we’ve come to know, simply looking a certain way may serve as a trigger (this also includes Law Enforcement Professionals); this trigger can prompt a person to get more information from the person in this instance. Either way, what we have here are the stereotypical thought-processes that can re-inforce with each negative or discriminative incident. The natural consequence for a person, most of the time, is a kind of “hardening of the categories,” so the person in the system and the system itself gets even more unclear & muddy. In many ways, this leaves little energy left for police to “Protect & Serve” the community in which they work.
This applies to Bill’s first incident. He was returning some videos to the video store; he happened to be wearing an old, Navy P-Coat (as they were called) that hung down, maybe below his belt line.
At that time, Bill was wearing this coat (once my dad’s) when he went to the video store. However, the menacing symbol of teens who kill, wearing longer, trench coats, had already been set in motion by one of the shooters at Columbine, CO, who helped gun down many students & teachers there. The Media, along with many other sources, kept the “dark, long overcoat” stereotype running for a while.
So, Bill is walking up to the store’s front door, and the next thing he knows, a cop car pulls up, flashing its blinding, red lights, the way that many “first responders’” vehicles would be flashing at a fire in a fire-works factory. The officers grabbed him, and threw his head down on the sidewalk, nose first; they then cuffed him and pushed him into the back seat of the police car. Bill remembered the face of one of the deputies, having seen him before sometime. Bill sits in the back seat, as his nose drips crimson drops of blood.
He told the cops his reason for being at the video store was only to drop off some movies, and that was it! As they probed him with more questions, and silly, stupid remarks barbs (it turns out that Bill looked a little bit like a suspect wanted for murder!).
As they talked more, the officers laughed at Bill and threw open & hidden barbs at him; one of them suggested in a very serious manner that he should think about going into the Military and make it a career.
After asking him a few more questions, they must have concluded that Bill didn’t seem to match the description, or seem the type to be a local ax-murderer! Bill is a very passionate person, and sometimes his anger gets the best of him, and then he goes out-of-control. He has a big, wonderful heart!
Bill delivered pizzas, and drove an old, white Ford Fairlane (if my memory serves me, I think I gave him this dubious car, or maybe he had bought his own). If I gave the car to him, I apologize for the piece of shit!
He delivered pizzas all around the sub-division, and our part of town. He would drive down this one road, and Harris County Constables would stop him all the time for some fairly “piddly-squat” reasons. Personally, I think that the fact that he looked like a Latino-American, was the real cause of the police harassment. Then, too, his “almost-looking-like-a-low-rider” car would have caught their attention, in their profiling Bill. Interestingly enough, I’ve talked to a few other persons-of-color who have had the same kind of treatment by officers of the law.
The third incident that Bill told me about where he encountered discriminative association (I’m sure there were other times as well), was a time he was with a friend of his who happened to be an African-American. They were situated in an apartment community, they rang the apartment number, but no one answered; Bill’s friend decided to jump the fence & look for the apartment. His girlfriend, who lived there, had his cell phone, and he needed it back.
His friend disappears over the gated-fence, and ran away out of sight; in this case as well, a cop car guns its engine, moves towards Bill, and with sirens & lights flashing\fire-engine red\Bill’s left standing by the gate as both officers get out of their squad car, with pistols drawn.
One of the cops whispers something to the other and he gets back into the car-he pulls out of the parking lot, and heads towards the leasing office. Once there, he explains to the manager that they got a call from a resident of the apartment complex, who saw an African-American male trying to break into the apartment. He asks if he can take a look around, you know, to check things out, and the manager, of course, said yes.
The police officer leaves the office and goes from one building to another looking for the apartment number the caller had given. After surveilling a while, he sees Bill’s friend sneaking around some apartments-he finds the one he’s looking for, and knocks loudly. The officer yells, “OK, put your hands in the air, turn towards the wall, spread your legs and put your hands up against the wall. Now!” The dude turns and surrenders himself to the officer.
The cop marches him back to his cop car and pushes him down, headfirst, into the unyielding metal of the top of the car, and then into the back seat, hard. His partner gets in and sits in the passenger-side of the front seat.
The officers spoke very abusively to Bill & his friend, but especially to his friend, the young, African-American dude. In their questions & conversation, they called his friend a “N_ _ _ _ _” and kept bad-mouthing both of them.
Bill’s friend attempted to explain that he’d gone to his girlfriend’s apartment here; after ringing her bell & getting a “no answer,” he got real panicky because he needed his phone for his job; then he told the cops, “I swear to God, I wasn’t casing any apartment, I didn’t break into an apartment, and all I’m trying to do is to get my phone back. I’m really sorry I trespassed, and jumped the fence!”
The cops didn’t believe him, and didn’t take a word of his seriously, Bill told me later; at the end of the day, they took Bill’s friend to jail, and let Bill walk. Maybe White Privilege was doing its work, too, and that’s why Bill got off. All of us are conditioned to perceive the empirical signals & stimuli that surround us, reacting or responding to them based on our value-judgments.
Our senses activate our perceptions, too. We see something happen &, Deja vu, our memory transports us back in time to when that similar situation occurred. All humans have evolved this type of conscientiousness. Usually, we react in “fight or flight” ways in order to survive or avoid pain.
Earlier in the story, I used the term “hardening of the categories.” Perhaps another way to define this term is to say that many folks appear to ‘have an emotional commitment to ignorance.’ When we get new information or see a little more clearly & deeply about ourselves, often it’s not a pleasant experience; we resist it, push-back against it, or deny its reality. This has been given the label of cognitive dissonance-cognitive, disrupting information that we’re not ready to hear; we seek psycho-social historical knowledge and other narratives that may have been on the oppressor or the “perp” side.
If we allow our categories to harden, so that we put people who are different than us in neat little category-boxes, the reinforcement increases their hardening, they get tight, rigid, dry & breakable, dull & sometimes people grow stunted & pathologically in their effects on both self & others.
This kind of person isn’t typical to someone who’s open to learn; their ignorance acts as a barrier, acting as a metaphysical wall to see things around them that are beautiful & empowered diversity of humanity, too. Have you ever seen an ugly rose? Have you ever been in the presence of a mean-spirited tulip? What about a hostile hydrangea?
This may operate in a different kind of way. I remember being in a hospital vending area, and an elderly African-American woman, possibly a person who had intellectual disabilities, was struggling to get candy or coffee from the machine; another white woman stood near me, and she looked over at me, giving me a non-verbal signal, as if to say, ‘These people are ignorant. We are superior, more intelligent than a black person.’ Looking at me with that superior look was here way of finding some type of alliance in this situation. This also may be a type of discriminative association.
This extends also to other discriminative associations where people appear in oppositional roles. We see one thing, one object, one person, or one scene, we make a quick judgment about what we see, based on discriminative association, then we’re off and running.
Most of us would probably feel much more contentment if we stop profiling others, especially when it comes to some kind of negative or deleterious association with someone or something else. Just because we think something to be true & factual, doesn’t mean it is, or that it ends up that way. It has to be authenticated by facts, observations, and good, sound information throughout the entire process.
©Christopher Bear-Beam July 14, 2016