I generally leave my personal feelings off this blog, but I can no longer be silent.
My husband is college educated and also possesses training in a trade. Though only 5 feet 10 inches, he’s often mistaken for 6 feet or taller. He stands with authority, poise and confidence. His almond skin is complimented by green pool-like eyes. He’s never done drugs. When he meets with friends for drinks, he has one, maybe two beers and is home to his family by midnight at the latest.
Byron plays flag football on a men’s league. He’s a loving father and a supportive husband. We have been together for 11 years.
Sadly, I feel like I have to say all of this first. I feel like I have to defend the man that I know he is so the public doesn’t make assumptions about who he is.
My husband is all the things I stated above as well as reserved and even-toned. He rarely shows emotion in an outward fashion. His face never betrays his feelings. In our 11 years together, I’ve seen him truly angry only twice. I’ve seen him beaming with joy only a handful of times. He rarely smiles, though he’s happy and content. He’s been taught from a young age not to let his emotions betray him. To stand tall and confident and calm at all times, so as not to raise any red flags or bring attention to himself—his green eyes do that well enough on their own.
My husband has been conditioned to scan his surroundings and stay vigilant at all times. He was taught never to raise his voice at an officer, to do exactly as he was told and to remain calm at all costs. He was conditioned to live in a state of constant watch. Always on guard. At first, I couldn’t understand this. In fact, in the infancy of our relationship, I thought he was overreacting.
Until I witnessed for myself the type of treatment he was subjected to.
After a late-night date, we were drove home from an area restaurant. It was around 1:00 AM. I worked as a bartender at the time, in an effort to pay my expenses while in college. I often worked the night shift, and Byron often waited for my shift to end to take me out.
Not two miles down the street, the flashing blue and red lights of a police car danced behind us. My husband straightened his posture. He placed both hands in clear view on the steering wheel, and he pulled over slowly and cautiously.
The officer approached the window, shining a flash light in my husband’s face, and asked for his license and registration. My husband told the officer the registration was in his glove compartment and asked for permission to remove his hands from the steering wheel to retrieve the paperwork. I looked at him with curiosity, but remained quiet. The officer told my husband to have me retrieve the paperwork instead. He was to keep his hands on the steering wheel.
“Do you know why I’ve stopped you?” the officer said to my husband as I shuffled through the contents of the glove compartment.
“No, sir, I do not.” my husband replied.
“Did you know your right tail light was out?”
“I did not, sir.”
I found the registration and as I attempted to hand it to my husband, the officer shoved his hand into the car past my husband’s face. His other hand still held the flash light in Byron’s face.
“I’ll take that ma’am,” he stated to me, keeping the flash light in Byron’s face. “Slowly, take one of your hands off the steering wheel and pass me your driver’s license. Leave the other hand on the steering wheel,” he stated to my husband.
Byron did as he was told. The officer took his ID and walked back to his patrol vehicle.
We waited in silence.
We waited for what seemed an uncharacteristically long time, and then, I watched as three additional patrol vehicles pulled up, creating a semi-circle around our vehicle.
The original officer came storming back to our car.
“Get out!” he screamed at Byron. “Put your hands on top of your head and get out of the car!”
Startled, I put my hands over my ears. I watched my husband slowly get out of the car. His face never changed, his voice never raised. His demeanor was calm, collected, as though normal.
The car shook and I heard a large thud as the officer slammed Byron up against the side.
“Don’t move!” he screamed.
In the same even tone, Byron tried to speak, “Sir, can you tell me…”
“Shut up!” The officer continued to scream at my husband. He was forceful in his movements.
My heart pounded in my ears. Byron, remained calm.
A knocking on my window made me jump. A second police officer, presumably from one of the other patrol cars, was waving at me through the glass. I cracked the window.
“Miss? Are you all right? Did this man hurt you?” I looked at him quizzically, disbelief running through my veins.
“Hurt me? Why would he hurt me?” The officer just stared back at me. He asked me nothing else.
Byron was being searched. The other officer was still standing at my door side. Finally satisfied with his search, the officer allowed Byron to reenter the vehicle. I fought back tears, but Byron was still composed, though a somber undertone rested in his eyes.
The officer, once again, approached the window.
“Here’s your paperwork. You looked like someone we’ve been looking for. We had to make sure. Get your headlight fixed.”
The officer was not apologetic. His voice was harsh and cold.
This wasn’t the first time Byron had been treated in such a way. It also wasn’t the last. But this was the incident I witnessed.
I was naïve to the fact that this kind of treatment of black people in America is still prevalent. Growing up in a small, predominantly white town, I didn’t see this behavior, and therefore, I was blinded to the truth.
Being with my husband for the past 11 years opened my eyes to the reality of the world in which America’s black communities live.
A woman refused to serve us at the sub counter in a popular grocery store in our area.
We were denied renting a condo.
We regularly get stared down and looked over in shopping centers and restaurants.
Together, my husband and I have a young son and another child on the way. My nine-year-old boy has a tanned complexion and wavy, light brown hair, and sadly, I am relieved. Standing on his own, he wouldn’t be characterized as black, and I have less fear that one day he’ll be gunned down by someone of authority or someone mistaking him for another person. Just writing such words makes me feel disgusting and guilty. No mother should have to fear for the safety of her son because of the color of his skin, and yet, this is the reality for so many black mothers.
As I await the arrival of our second son, my chest tightens as I wonder what he’ll look like. Will he be darker like his father? Will I have to worry about his safety?
This worry and angst that I might lose my husband or one of my sons just because of the color of their skin is new to me. But it is not new for black mothers and sisters and daughters. The black community has long understood what I’ve only recently been faced with. And yet, nothing, at least not on a large enough scale, seems to change.
Movements like Black Lives Matter aren’t looking to divide communities or bring violence to people of authority. Black Lives Matter is simply asking us to look at the evidence that’s right before our eyes, and make a lasting and necessary change. To look at our intrinsic biases and change.
Black Lives Matter is looking toward the future of black men and women and hoping that one day, these men and women will not have to fear for their lives or the lives of their children just because they are black.
Black Lives Matter is asking us to rid ourselves of our comfort zones and stop being passive.
I won’t sit here and pretend that just because my husband is black, I understand the depths of the despair and fear the black community is faced with on a daily basis. I don’t fully understand. I’ve not lived in fear for my life on a daily basis. I’ve not experienced what my black neighbors and friends have experienced. I have witnessed it from the sidelines though.
I’ve seen how a good, strong, black man’s personality is changed forever because of the bias and racism he’s experienced. I’ve witnessed how two people, one white and one black, can be treated completely differently in the same situation.
Structural racism is real. It is alive and well in 2016. It’s time to stop denying it. It’s time to let go of ignorance.
Sharing our collective upset on social media channels isn’t enough. Laws don’t get changed because of someone’s lament on social media. Posting #BlackLivesMatter isn’t enough. It’s a start, but not enough.
These men—husbands, fathers, sons, friends—they no longer have a voice. Movements like Black Lives Matter are important and necessary, but they cannot make changes by themselves, because they did not cause the problem.
I’m pleading to my white friends, family members, community members, politicians and people of power to do their part. The plight faced by black communities does not change until we all stand in unison. Until we commit to doing our part. Until we address our biases and prejudices and work to change. Until we stop making assumptions start learning from the experiences of others. Silence is no longer an option. Standing on the sidelines and asking movements organized by the black population to rectify an issue that they have not created will no longer work.
Get involved. Stand in the streets. Write to your political leaders. Get educated, and then educate others.