Americans At Odds

Being pulled over by a police car is everyone’s nightmare, regardless of race.  It’s usually bad news delivered with intimidating instructions.

A few years back, my brother and I were coming home from New Jersey in separate cars.  It was at night and I was following him.  He was a little confused about where to make a left turn and he swerved a bit getting into a turning lane.  Immediately, a police car appeared and ordered him into a parking lot.  I followed them.

Though stone sober, my brother was suspected of DUI.  I approached the White officers to explain what they saw, but was ordered twice to step back and not interfere.  I duly complied.  I had no desire to end up in cuffs.  Once satisfied that my brother was fit to drive, the police departed.  However, we were sufficiently intimidated.  How this would have played out were we African Americans, I cannot say.

In this age of cell phone and body cameras, a frightening picture has emerged of police encounters with African Americans.  It seems that every encounter is a life-threatening experience,  for both Blacks and cops.  Based on my experience and the video footage I see, my take is: don’t backtalk cops!

This is not to say all policemen are unbiased or emotionally stable.  They are trained to dominate any encounter and to be obeyed.  Moreover, they cannot assume that you are trustworthy and unarmed – their lives are always on the line.

Videos may both clarify and inflame.

In a NYTimes op-ed this week, African American educator Melanye Price bemoaned the repeated broadcast of what she called “snuff films” of Black murders committed by the police and White civilians.  She raises serious questions about the media’s intent and the psychological effects these videos have on African Americans and race relations.

The sight of Black victims in the throes of death-by-cop (George Floyd’s being the most recent) or by White civilians, appalls us all and serves to elicit emotions that a thousand words of prose cannot.  But, therein lies the rub.  Americans and the world are shown ghastly videos of racism that compel an emotional response.  Our society is currently at the point of questioning whether the 155 years of civil rights progress ever happened – an absurd reaction!

You cannot blame African Americans, especially the young, for feeling America has failed them when video after video shows them being decimated by Whites.   They hear daily about White supremacy, “systemic racism,” failing education, and even the coronavirus targeting them.  They hear little or nothing about “systemic” problems within their own culture and community.  Even introspection is deemed racist.  The video has become their ultimate perspective.

But, there are no videos of Paul (86) and Lidia (85) Marino being shot in the head by a Black man, while they were visiting their son’s grave in Delaware on May 8th.  There is no video of Columbia student Tessa Majors being robbed and stabbed to death in a Manhattan park by three Black teenagers on December 11, 2019.  In both cases, these murders were not framed as race crimes.  Whereas, every police shooting of Blacks has been deemed a racist act.

Black anger has become more vitriolic because of this.  Chad Sanders, a Black author, wrote in the NYTimes of bothersome Whites who contact him to pledge their “white guilt” support.  He dismisses them as useless unless they are willing to threaten their own “relatives and loved ones telling them you will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action supporting black lives through protest or financial contribution.”  Shades of Malcolm X!

A segment of Lester Holt’s NBC World News last week featured a Black activist who taught his 8-year old daughter how to act with White police:  throw up your hands and proclaim you are unarmed.  The poor girl broke down in tears as she demonstrated the required exercise.

But the real slap in the face came from a Black athlete interviewed by the Times, who recently moved to Red China with his 4-year old son. After being unable to rent an apartment and being denied seating at a restaurant, he’s had enough and wants to come home.  But, “I don’t want my son to have this preconceived notion of Chinese people being racist.” 

Sure, save that notion for use against Euro-Americans. –JLM

5 thoughts on “Americans At Odds”

  1. In “Green Book”, Tony learns a little about how Italian Americans were viewed by some Southern police in the 60’s. At that time, even some police in Northern cities were probably biased toward Italian Americans. The movie leaves the audience with the impression that Italian Americans are inherently racist, even though Tony redeems himself in the end. In the current rioting activities, there have been a number of Columbus statues destroyed. Let us hope that the “racist” image, together with unceasing negative stereotyping, and anti-Columbus sentiments will not cause a new wave of anti-Italianism to emerge.

    1. We see the racism image game being played in Europe as well, mostly by British and Northern European media. Every single episode of racism in Italy is fully reported by those media. Any Italian or foreigner willing to describe Italy as a racist place is given ample space on those media.

      British media has also tarnished the image of the Italian league soccer (Serie A) by reporting and overrating racial abuses against African players. On the other hand, racial scandals in the English Premier League are minimized and hidden under the rug.

      The reality is that Italy is not a racist place by definition and by numbers. In 2002, the foreign population in Italy was 1.3 M. As of today, it is over 5 M (20% from Africa). Italy has welcomed millions of people in the last two decades despite a sluggish economy and saved thousand of people in the Mediterranean.

  2. All immigrant peoples went thru similar circumstances. The AfricanAmerican however has endured the most. I recently remarked to a relative of mine that an African American woman recently called a talk show and said that most white people do not know what goes thru an African American’s mind each time they go out the door, meet white people they do not know and above all, police officers and people in position. My relative interjected, how about each time a white person goes thru an African American neighborhood? How does that person feel, the same way!

    As more and more African Americans integrate the American culture and especially white neighborhoods, without the whites leaving, the paranoia on both sides will eventually subside. As long as there are, however, black neighborhoods, there will always be that fear, paranoia, racism against whites, etc. that have been engrained, and engrained from generation to generation, for hundreds of years. It will take the removal of the constraints of poverty and the generational fears that have existed for years to bring the African Americans into some normalcy again.

  3. The current buzz-word “micro-aggression” is actually apropos to Italian Americans, too. We don’t see Italian surnamed people being pulled over for no reason and beaten (or killed) by police officers. But the sort of “implicit bias” (another buzzword) noted above is something we all still have to deal with, whether in serious matters (business, law, media misrepresentation) or everyday settings (constant insults at the work-place). And, of course, we get very little credit for being law-abiding, tax-paying, pro-family, and patriotic (in the sense of stressing the positive ideals of America). We are both “part of the white power structure” (black activists) and “mafiosi/the Other” (everyone else). It’s very surreal.

  4. Being pulled over is not the only way a citizen can have an encounter with authorities.

    Think of any other legal proceedings, like an ongoing investigation for a crime, a civil lawsuit, a family dispute that requires court-intervention. In all of these situations, having an Italian name may be highly detrimental, as many people assume Italians are born criminal.

    Law-enforcing authorities may also find appealing pursuing a case against Italians looking for a sexy headline, being Italians “the best at criminal activities and at organized crime”.

    During my divorcee proceedings, the couples therapist asked me, as a very first first question, if I was Sicilian. I knew right away that the therapist was simply assuming that all Italians are Sicilian mafiosi-like men. After that epiphany, I decided to settle the case, as I was concerned that even a judge could have assumed that I was a “Sicilian” with all the bad connotation it unfortunately carries .

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