Filed Under:  Letter to the Editor, Opinion

Men of color, beware

21st November 2011   ·   0 Comments

As I sat in Loyola University’s College of Law room 308 November 3 listening to John Thompson share his story of being exonerated after 18 years in Louisiana state penitentiaries, I thought about the precarious positions that Black men are placed in, oftentimes, at no fault of their own.

I thought about the historical subjugations of inequality, the failed dreams, the killed aspirations, the trashed environs, the denied opportunities for advancement, and the deteriorated relationships with Black women. All of these add to the continuing demise of African people living in the United States and around the world.

I also thought about the lack of love of self, the disrespect of others or of life, the lack of values, the televised prostitution (reality shows), the Facebook egomaniacs, and the white idol worship of the facial images on U.S. currency.

I thought about how I have been pulled over in every state between Texas and New Jersey. My work as a research scientist/engineer and world traveler requires that I do a lot of driving between the northeastern United States and New Orleans. During these long drives, I have often been asked who I am and what I do; asked ‘Is this your car and why is it so expensive?’; asked about drugs and whether my cell phone is a gun. I have also had a gun pulled on me and told to raise my hands; told to get out and stand behind the car while searched; been to court and paid fines; had my licensed confiscated and a warrant for arrest; accused of intoxication when I was actually sleepy and tired and forced to have to prove it through the DWI tests (hokey-pokey), etc……See where I am going with this. However, most tickets have been for “speeding” — just a convenient cover for ‘DWB’ — Driving While Black.

At 6’4”, 265 lbs, with gray hair, I believe in impeccable behavior and manners at all times. Whether I’m in a suit or sweatsuit, I’m obvious everywhere I go. Why? When you are classified as Black and male, this system is not designed for your success, quality of life, or even breath of life. The empirical evidence is all around us — along with the crime cameras — and there are numerous studies for you to read. Black people are statistically at the bottom of everything positive and top of everything negative. I have to be cognizant of my surroundings at all times by being mindful because I never know if I might be stopped “two” blocks away from work or 1,300 miles north of New Orleans.

Yet, with crime on the rise due to the inequitable distribution of wealth and resources and a global economic depression, this is a bad combination for Black men, particularly those with no historical framework to contextualize one’s predicament.

Now imagine starting your Saturday, checking in on your 85-year-old mother to see if she’s OK, leaving to run errands but 10 minutes later, you are pulled over at Exit 240B on Chef Menteur Highway (the skid row section of New Orleans East) by a non-white female state trooper and given a seat-belt ticket (along with the others who were pulled over). That fruitless encounter represented at least a 20-minute time delay.

Now try getting your mind right, re-oriented on your tasks only to see three state troopers several hours later in the “free state of Jefferson” having lunch to celebrate a job well done. The same ones from the other side of town. Unbe­lievably serendipitous, I took cell phone pictures from the other side of the restaurant.

Now envision the shock I had of the gall of the ticket-writing state trooper knocking on my driver’s side window asking why I was taking pictures (not having bothered her or them in a packed restaurant). The aggressive state trooper also asked me what I was going to do with the images I took, told me that I better take care of the ticket, and that she “would have smiled” if she had known I was taking her picture. While listening to her talking to me negatively, what am I supposed to do? She has an approved gun! And again, keep in mind that I’m a 6’4” Black man. Bad combination. Very bad combination.

This most obvious and low-level act is simply an example of the myriad of problems that people of color, specifically Black men, have to endure in their daily lives with respect to the nine areas of people activity: Economics, Education, Entertain­ment, Labor, Law, Politics, Sex, Religion and War.

What ever happened to Officer Friendly or a warning ticket? Hmmm, would you have come upon me without your attitudinal gun posture? Besides, I tried to pay the ticket the following Monday but it takes two weeks to be in the system. More problems for me but smile, you are on candid camera too!

Be careful, men of color, be very careful.

– Deven Collins
Research Scientist/Engineer

This article was originally published in the November 21, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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