image via ChainsawSuit
Welcome to “The A Team Does Crim”, where apparently all that happens is that Alyssa rants about racism on behalf of her black husband.
Today, this article popped up on my New York Times recommended feed. Simply reading the title made me mad, but I was too busy to really direct my anger to something productive and thought I would just let it go. But, now I am 3/4 of a bottle deep into cheap wine, and I’m watching Scrubs for the millionth time, and I’m procrastinating on the 300 pages of reading and assignments I need to accomplish, so it’s obviously and officially rant time.
My husband is black (see the previous rant for more information). My husband is also (almost) a doctor. At this point, he hasn’t really run into a situation where people have assumed he is somewhere he shouldn’t be in the hospital simply because he is black. I’ve borne witness to several instances of him lending his services in emergency situations, like that time we were at Montana’s for all-you-can-eat ribs and the woman at the table next to use had a stroke, or the time my dance student stopped being able to breathe at a competition, or the time he exploded on my former doctor’s office for not providing me medical attention when I was in the midst of a 36-hour-long panic attack. Needless to say, the very thought that someone could insinuate he isn’t a doctor simply because he’s black? On the white-girl scale from literally to even, I just CAN’T.
So, what does any of this wine-fuelled rage have to do with criminal law? I think that the racial attitudes that underlie interactions like the one in the aforementioned New York Times article are incredibly problematic and are the basis of the issues faced by racialized individuals within the criminal system. Desmond Cole faces the disproportionate police targeting that he does because of a society that assumes a person with black skin couldn’t possibly be a former English major from Queen’s (the university, not the New York neighbourhood). Dale James avoids going out in public because a society which associates skin colour with participation in drug trafficking and violence has perpetuated racial attitudes into its system of law enforcement. Dee Brown can’t drive his “fancy” car the same way that every other person drives a “fancy” car (or even their shitty car, if you’re me and you drive a beat-up Hyundai with graffiti on the side) down the highway because society assumes that he must have stolen it, given that he is black. It couldn’t possibly be that he’s a successful athlete who makes more in one night of play than the cop pulling him over makes in a month, because he’s young, and he’s black, and his hat’s real low.
So, a tl;dr for anyone who got lost right after the Kim Kardashian meme: because we live in a world where the primary assumption is SOMEHOW still that white people are better than black people – or, for that matter, than all other non-white people – we also live in a world where not only is my husband more likely to be pulled over for small driving infractions than I am, but there isn’t even any firm data to acknowledge that this is happening on a consistent basis. We’re Canadian, right, so we can’t possibly be racist. Look at how many Syrian refugees we’ve taken in! Remember that time we helped free slaves through the Underground Railroad? Look at all the reparations we’ve made in return for the abomination of the Residential School System! We’re clearly not racist. So, no need to talk about this any further. Let’s downplay our part in any historical racial tensions and ignore any current problems that might be stemming from that involvement.
Like Desmond Cole, I am a former English major who sometimes enjoys walking around the streets after dark with my white female friends. Unlike Desmond Cole, there is a very small likelihood that I will be stopped and questioned about my presence on these walks, even though I am probably just as tall and imposing as he is. But my 6 foot self hanging out in the streets after dark doesn’t matter, because unlike Mr. Cole, I’m white. Like Dale James, I am a fan of Tupac Shakur and wearing baseball caps. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety, and I’ve relied heavily on my therapist in these times. Unlike Dale James, my love of rap and caps has no impact on the tendency of police officers to stop me and ask me for my ID. My struggles have not been caused by a simple, physical fact like skin colour, and my access to important and lifesaving resources during those struggles has not been limited, because unlike Mr. James, I’m white. Like Dee Brown, I tend to dabble in the 14-km-over-the-speed limit game, and to be honest, sometimes I go even faster, while drinking coffee and changing my music from a handheld device. Unlike Dee Brown, I stand a very low chance of being pulled over for driving in a potentially MORE reckless manner, and if I am pulled over, there is a very high chance that being apologetic and polite will get me a lesser charge, or even out of a charge altogether. Because unlike Mr. Brown, I’m white.
Again, I have no answers. I have only disbelief and frustration with a hint of sadness. My husband can put me to shame when it comes to just about any topic (former Debate captain, y’all), but when it comes to medicine? He’s perfectly empathetic, even when my grandparents’ neighbour stops us to talk about her dying husband and I’m basically breaking down into tears. He’s calm and collected in the face of crisis, which I think a person having a stroke would far prefer to my approach of stress, cry, collapse, repeat. He’s replaced someone’s patella, people. He literally gave someone a new kneecap, and the mere idea of cutting open someone’s skin just gives me something I can only describe as the heebie jeebies. There isn’t even a question when it comes to medicine. But in spite of all this, if I were to claim to be a doctor on a plane, people would be much less likely to question me than they would be to question him, even though I am but a lowly woman who would have been told a mere 160 years ago that “the doors of the University are not open to women and […] never will be.”
And that just sucks.
-Alyssa Jervis, 2016