I hate calling the white man’s police.
As a black woman, I am the keeper of many things. Chief among them is the hope of black men. A black man introduced into the criminal justice system for any violation, no matter how minor becomes a son who cannot care for big momma, a brother who can’t hold down his siblings, a mate who can’t promise a paycheck, and a father who is a parent only when the penal system says he can be.
Black women calling the police on black men has a long, tragic history. That history isn’t just about protecting black mens’ futures. It’s also about how that leaves black women trapped between a rock and a hard place beneath an open sky.
Last night I called the police on a black man.
I travel about three to four times a month to talk to people, to do field work, to give lectures, and all manner of other things I’m surprised They let me do. I am a short woman that people are always surprised to discover is short. I take up space but it rarely changes the empirical reality that I am five feet, two inches tall. I wouldn’t tell you how much I weigh if Jesus himself imbued you with the power to compel me. But, I am not the 220+ pounds that my cab driver was last night.
I think that’s a safe guesstimate. It feels like I’m reading that without the implicit bias that often accounts for inter-racial misidentifcation. Of course, I cannot be sure. I can tell you that until things went sour I’d closed my eyes, probably had my legs sprawled open in the back of that taxi after a flight from hell without a single thought of my safety, his size, or my limited ability to kick his ass.
But sour it went. He wanted cash. I don’t carry $60 in cash at 2 am as I’m traveling across the country and I do not have to. I pay all manner of black taxes, female taxes, and short people taxes to try to police my safety. I pay extra for the blow-out so that TSA won’t pat down my natural ($90).I buy the good shoes for an extra inch so that the men in business class don’t trample over me in the mad dash to board through the priority line ($too much). And, I pay for licensed taxi cabs as opposed to cheaper bootleg alternatives so I’m not walking around like an ATM, ripe to be plucked (on average about a $15 difference).
I absorb most of these things, chalk it up to surviving in the machine, and carry on. That’s what women do to protect themselves. That’s what black women do to protect everybody.
When Joseph refused to take a credit card and I stood my ground, Joseph became angry and I quickly became a “black bitch” that no one wants to “do shit for” because of reasons just like this. He pushed me towards the car, still running, threatening to “take me back” and to “keep [my] credit card” as ransom (although not for payment).
I do what short black women do. I got crafty.
I lied and said my male partner was inside.
I put arms akimbo, feet apart and my bag between us and took up all the space I could.
And I cussed like a sailor fresh from leave.
The juxtaposition of all of this confused him just long enough for me to escape inside and call 911.
I hesitated before I hit the final “1”. Even as I heard him pacing on my stoop, alternately yelling and threatening me, my conditioning caused me to reconsider hitting the “1”.
He could be here on a work visa. You just know there’s a woman and a baby somewhere who needs his paycheck. He is dark skinned and large and male. I could set in motion a series of events that could end with him hurt or worse. I could bring the wrath of the white man’s police down on the head of a black man.
I hit the “1”.
I haven’t always hit it. Not when the brothers trapped my car in a carwashing bay at dusk to “holla”.
Not when the friend of a friend refused to leave my house, except by going through me.
Not when a paramour punched a hole in the wall and wished it was my head.
I did not hit “1”.
Last night I did. I praised affirmative action when the officer was black and I was at Emory and not in the West End. And then I felt guilty for affecting privilege I do not legitimately own. Trust me, I’ve been black in the West End where the police have assumed I ain’t shit, don’t know anybody who isn’t ain’t shit, and detained me like I wasn’t shit. And that did not end well.
This did end well. It ended as well as it could with the police and a bruise on my arm could end. A card reader magically appeared, the officer made the driver use it, and stayed awhile. Of course, the driver still knows where I live and that’s not the most fun idea I’m having today.
To not think about that I’m choosing to think about other things like, when did I stop mortgaging my present for the future of black men? I do not know if this is a permanent change or an anomaly. The only empirical test involves me staring down more angry men and I am too busy for that. But it seems important for me to understand when I became the kind of person who, knowing the risks and the costs, hits the damn “1”.
There is no insightful analysis here. I should have said that at the start; saved you some time. I may just be slow on the uptake. Even though black women are at a higher risk of all kinds of violence, including domestic violence, they do not trust the criminal justice system to protect them. But, there is evidence that black women are slightly more likely than other women to report some kind violent crimes. The social science hypothesis is that what we’ve understood as race may well be an interaction with race and class.
Which is an “of course” for me, a somewhat social scientist.
But for me, the person, somehow hitting the “1” because I thought I could is almost as disturbing as being pushed against that taxi.
No one prepared me for that.