I haven’t told this story because frankly it’s a bit embarrassing how naive and oblivious I was that night a few years back. Recently I was reminded of it, and it stuck out to me as a story that needed to be told, an important contrast needing to be expressed.
It all began one day when I was trying to put together some ledge running lines. There was a section that was hindered by protruding nails. They were clearly remnants from another time, rusted and without purpose. It could have meant slicing an arm open and then being bounced off into a hefty drop below. I was soon to go after a challenge with Brandon Douglass and Knox trying to go the complete circumference of the building without falling off, and it was a no-brainer that I should pull the protruding nails out the night before.
Another important thing to know is that I hate carrying a backpack when training. For quite a few years I had been designing a parkour harness that distributed all my needed training items across my body in spots with which I almost never contact surfaces. I also spread items out in ways it doesn’t mess with my center of gravity the way a backpack can. In order to achieve this with parkour, you’re also looking at a lot of straps, zippers, and retraction yo-yos so things like easily accessible keys and tools don’t go flying mid jump. The unintentional product? Paired with certain clothing, I can end up looking extremely tactical, sketchy, eyebrow-raising if seen.
The night before our circumference challenge, I threw my fourth prototype parkour harness over my usual night-mission-dark-clothing (dark blue if you’re in the know). I was a bit naive about it at the time, but thinking back now, if I had caught a glimpse of a Navy-SEAL-looking, modern ninja clinging to the side of a building in a shadow, wearing various tools that could in fact be weapons clipped across a full body harness, I would be on edge FOR SURE.
So I make the short climb up to the nails, I pull out a couple tools that were stored on my left upper ribs, and get to work without too much thought. At one point, a man and woman exit the building and I slip up having not seen them because of my impatience with a stubborn nail I couldn’t pull out. I was instead hammering it flush into the brick, causing a few loud clinks. In my precarious climbing position, I barely saw over my shoulder that they had stopped and were looking at me. “People are like T-REX though, if you don’t move they can’t see you,” I whispered outloud to myself. “Jesus … did I say that outloud?” I said out loud, not whispering.
Tension ensued …
… then the sweet sound of steps in the other direction.
Not moving a muscle totally worked! I went LITERALLY invisible! They walked onward in their narrow-muggle-minded world, those IDIOTS!
INVISIBILITY NINJA SKILLS NEXT LEVEL, BROOO!!!
… The police drove up before I even got another nail out.
The T-REX thing was dumb … I’m an idiot.
They yell up to me to get down, but with noticeable fear in their voices and using terms like “sir” and “please.” I just generally comply, climb down, answer questions, and never feel scared at all. I was initially confused as to why they were so extremely nervous as they interacted with me. At the time, I wasn’t very aware of the fact that I looked like the most tactical civilian they’d encountered, seemingly strapped with a diverse set of weapons, one for every occasion. And then some more illuminating information came out: the officers told me that based on the reports of the people who called in, they determined there was a risk of someone planting explosives on the building …
… Let’s stop there for a moment and travel to what would appear to be another dimension.
Let’s shift to one of my friend’s experiences. His name is Sam. He’s one of the most laid back guys I’ve known and always has a bright smile on his face, which is probably why I’ve heard people call him “happy Sam.” He’s a documentary maker, music producer, incredible DJ, among many other things, and Sam is a black man.
Sam recently told me about an experience he had. One sunny day, he was waiting for a bus at the Broomfield park-n-ride when suddenly police officers ripped up in cars and got out with guns drawn. As internally jarring as this was, he tells me that instinctively he knew he couldn’t show that on the outside. He had to act natural, it’s a matter of survival. So he did the near impossible with only a finger twitch looming between him and being shot to death.
They searched his bag as he asked the right questions several times, “Am I being arrested?” “Am I being detained?” to no answer other than “Wait” as they finally pulled up a vehicle with the accuser hidden behind tinted windows who identified him as the man who robbed her.
He stayed cool like only Sam can do as he complied. He recalls the moment the handcuffs were put on far too tightly, triggering a pressure point on his wrist that sent painful shocks up his arm. As they were pushing his head down to sit him in the back of a police car, he explained that the handcuffs were causing him serious pain. The police officer responded, “It’s not meant for comfort,” making it clear that he was guilty until proven innocent.
When he arrived at the jail, he was handed off to new officers who would be processing him. He said that because they didn’t know anything about his story, they robotically treated him like a criminal, assuming it must be the case if he were arrested.
I asked Sam what it felt like to sit in jail. His analogy was painful. He asked me to imagine those big clocks with all the moving gears. He said it was like a thread of his clothing getting caught in those gears, this large and immutable machine slowly pulling inward, impossible to escape now that it has a hold, soon to be crushed and mangled by the cogs.
After so much excruciating uncertainty and confusion about what the future would hold, he was finally released. No details, no apologies.
At this point he could have very well gone on with his life not knowing why this happened. Personally, I know that I’d be afraid to step back into the machine of which I had just mysteriously escaped, but Sam went to the court house WHERE HE HAD TO PAY MONEY to get the official police report. It revealed that a 20-year-old white woman had called emergency services saying that he had robbed her, and if it weren’t for security camera footage that undeniably falsified her claims, he may very well have been slowly pulled into those crushing gears.
Once the police saw all the footage, they confronted her. The police report stated that she backtracked her story and instead admitted, “I was scared because he was black.” She was then given the lowest misdemeanor possible, she paid a small fine, and went on with her life.
I’m already steaming mad at the fact that he had to go through that!!!
but also …
… what if in a moment of nervousness Sam made a move that an officer perceived as a threat? Or what if one of the officers was a “bad apple?”
What if he were shot to death?! Choked to death?!
Like so many before him that have suffered and died because of their skin color, in his burning pain and existential confusion that were his last moments, he would have to say goodbye to this world surrounded by his killers instead of loved ones.
Sam is a black man.
He was well lit, dressed normally, just standing at the bus stop = guns pointed in his face, falsely accused, handcuffed/arrested, jail time, zero reparations made to him, had to go out of his way and pay for a police report to even find out what happened. THE INJUSTICE!
I am a white man.
I was out at midnight, suited up like special ops, clinging to the side of a building in a shadow, suspected of potentially planting explosives = no guns, no handcuffs, no tasers, no chokeholds, no car ride to the station, no jail time while they were figuring out the truth, no disrespect, not even a ticket, just a warning and they sent me on my way.
To anyone who doesn’t think white privilege exists:
Congratulations, you’re enjoying the benefits of it.
This experience for me is one of many. Before I even look at data, I only need consider my interfacing with police and society throughout my life and contrast that with the many stories and perspectives I hear from black friends and acquaintances.
Racial profiling, unequal policing, and police brutality are only a small piece of the racism that still exists today. We have to fully reckon with the history of white supremacy and the use of racial violence by whites against black people and other people of color in America. Until we make America a just society for everyone, not just the racially privileged, white peoples’ work is not done.
I know racism feels like such a big problem, that there’s very little we can do to affect it. However, educating ourselves about our past and how it has led to today’s inequities in society will help us understand how to build a better America for everyone. The long history of racism in our country is not our fault, BUT America’s future is OUR responsibility.
I asked some black friends to curate a list of things they believe are essential for white people to understand, learn, and support. You can start with these resources and post a comment with any others you recommend.
White people, your inaction is a form of violence. Make the time:
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“How to be an antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
“When They See Us”
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
“Feel free to express my experience as tired. Exhausted. Tired of the need to be an expert, a “diverse voice” and a totem. Tell said “white people” that the notion of being represented is coveted for us just as it goes unnoticed and is common place for you. From the depictions of white Jesus and majority white superheroes, to not a single brown body in the Sunday funnies and almost exclusively white baby dolls in the store to name a paltry few. Y’all don’t even realize how helpful seeing “someone like you” in so many different roles convinces you to be capable of anything, and how forlorn the feeling of never finding reflections of who you are and want to be in retellings of ancient stories or modern media.