About US: The real reason why white people keep calling the cops on black people

Candid conversations about identity in 21st-century America
The Washington Post

imp?s=279061&sz=1x1&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8 imp?s=279062&sz=1x1&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8
imp?s=279063&sz=116x15&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8 imp?s=279064&sz=69x15&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8
Candid conversations about identity in 21st-century America
twitter facebook
sign up sign up

Dear white people: Your 911 calls for ‘living while black’ have gotten out of hand

Megan R. Underhill
sociology professor, University of North Carolina Asheville

As a sociologist who studies how white people think about race, I’m not surprised by the recent deluge of news stories that report on whites calling the police on black people for such “offenses” as napping in their dormitory common room, barbecuing in a park, notsmiling or waving at the neighbor, or mowing the lawn. An abundance of social science research reveals that racism is a regular, everyday feature of life in the United States and that most people are implicitly prejudiced if they are not explicitly so.

Though whites’ self-reported attitudes have become much more racially egalitarian in the past few decades, results from Harvard’s Implicit Racial Association test reveal that 80 to 85 percent of white test-takers hold negative implicit stereotypes toward black people; this includes whites who self-identify as “not racist.”

Research also indicates that white people have implicit positive feelings toward other whites. This means they see other whites as trustworthy and provide them with the benefit of the doubt in situations that arouse suspicion or concern. The recent Starbucks incident in which two black men were arrested for waiting in the cafe without having ordered a drink serves as an instructive example. As a sociologist and a white person, I am inclined to believe that if the two customers had been white men, the Starbucks manager would have been unconcerned and ignored them.

These incidents stir conversations about ‘overpolicing’

What is even more troubling about the results from social scientific research is that whites’ negative implicit bias extends to black children. For example, psychologist Phillip A. Goff and colleagues concluded that white adults see white children as “innocents” in “need of protection” but that black boys “are seen as older and less innocent.” This finding gives us insight into why white adults call the police on black children — they don’t see them as innocent children, but rather as suspicious and potentially dangerous.

Take the example of Stephanie Sebby-Strempel, or #PoolPatrolPaula, the white woman who verbally and physically accosted a 15-year-old black boy at a community pool in South Carolina. “Get out. Get out. Get out, now!” she can be heard yelling at the boy in a video of the incident. Then she strikes the boy in the face and threatens to call 911 if the “little punk” doesn’t leave the pool premises at once.

This raises the question: Why are some whites angry at people of color today?

Some sociologists point to the diminished financial and occupational prospects of Americans as one factor animating white racial anger. As Arlie Hochschild argues in her book “Strangers in Their Own Land,” a sizable contingent of white Americans believe that black Americans have received unfair dispensations from the state, such as affirmative action, that have improved their chances of becoming upwardly mobile and harmed the chances of white workers.

Whites’ sense of having been “left behind” has manifested in the emergence of an overtly angry white identity rooted in feelings of victimization. Empirically, whites’ racial anger is misguided. Black Americans continue to lag behind whites on almost every indicator, including but not limited to income, wealth and education. Further, though federal programs like affirmative action have opened doors for people of color, it was actually white women who benefited most from these policies.


Omega Psi Phi Fraternity members participate in a rally last April outside the Philadelphia Starbucks where one of their fraternity brothers was one of the two black men arrested for trespassing. (Tom Gralish/Philadelphia Inquirer/AP)

Segregation exacerbates racial bias and white anxiety toward people of color. Although segregation is typically talked about in reference to nonwhites, whites are more isolated than any other racial group in the United States. Whites live in the most racially isolated neighborhoods, attend schools with the least racial diversity, and have the least diverse friend networks of all racial groups. Segregation is pernicious for people of color for many reasons, but noteworthy here is that many of the white people who called the police on black individuals in recent months claim that their actions were not animated by racism. Instead, they called the police because the black person appeared “suspicious” or “out of place” within the context of their neighborhood or community pool.

Because segregation leaves whites with little first-hand experience of others, the television and the Internet become their primary racial educator. Both traffic in extremely negative images of people of color. Black Americans are depicted as violent criminals or unrepentant, lifelong welfare recipients. These images flit across our screens every day in television and film. American politicians and presidents even draw upon these racialized stereotypes. Think about Ronald Reagan’s harmful comments regarding “welfare queens”; George H.W. Bush’s “Willie Horton” ad; Hillary Clinton’s discussion of “super predators;” or Donald Trump’s statements during the campaign that African Americans lived in poverty-stricken, crime-ridden neighborhoods and threatening to send the “feds” to Chicago to reduce crime.

It is important to recognize that calling the police on a person of color contributes to racially inequitable outcomes. Imagine you’re an 8-year-old girl in front of your home selling water to help pay for a family vacation and someone calls the police on you. The experience would probably terrify, bewilder and anger you. And it would teach you, at the tender age of 8, that some white people will use the threat of the police to put you in “your place” if they feel annoyed, inconvenienced or threatened.

Keep reading this essay

imp?s=279055&sz=1x1&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8 imp?s=279056&sz=1x1&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8
imp?s=1909&sz=116x15&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8 imp?s=95919&sz=69x15&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8

Chris Edwards, who is transgender, worked in advertising in downtown Boston while he transitioned from female to male during his 20s. He is now 49. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

Post reporter Tara Bahrampour talked with four men who transitioned as adults to the bodies in which they feel more comfortable. Their experiences opened their eyes not only to how society treats men and women differently, but also to how race and ethnicity affect the gender divide. Meet one of the four below, and read more about him and the other men in Bahrampour’s story, “Crossing the divide.”

Chris Edwards, 49, Boston
Advertising creative director, public speaker and author of the memoir “Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some.

When I began my transition at age 26, a lot of my socialization came from the guys at work. For example, as a woman, I’d walk down the hall and bump into some of my female co-workers, and they’d say, “Hey, what’s up?” and I’d say, “Oh, I just got out of this client meeting. They killed all my scripts and now I have to go back and rewrite everything, blah blah blah. What’s up with you?” and then they’d tell me their stories. As a guy, I bump into a guy in the hall and he says, “What’s up?” and I launch into a story about my day and he’s already down the hall. And I’m thinking, well, that’s rude. So, I think, okay, well, I guess guys don’t really share, so next time I’ll keep it brief. By the third time, I realized you just nod.
The creative department is largely male, and the guys accepted me into the club. I learned by example and modeled my professional behavior accordingly. For example, I kept noticing that if guys wanted an assignment they’d just ask for it. If they wanted a raise or a promotion they’d ask for it. This was a foreign concept to me. As a woman, I never felt that it was polite to do that or that I had the power to do that. But after seeing it happen all around me, I decided that if I felt I deserved something I was going to ask for it, too. By doing that, I took control of my career. It was very empowering.


Mj Rodriguez as Blanca in a scene from “Pose.” (JoJo Whilden/FX)

Mj Rodriguez of ‘Pose’ talks ballroom culture, representation of trans black women and realness

Nia Decaille
Post staff writer

“Pose,” a new summer series that airs Sundays on FX, has drawn praise from viewers and critics because representation of LGBTQ people and people of color is intentional on and off screen. Producer and screenwriter Ryan Murphy, who brought audiences “American Horror Story” and “Glee,” tapped writer, trans activist, author and now director Janet Mock and other writers such as Lady J to create a show that dives into the lives of queer people in the late 1980s.

Seen through the eyes of black transgender women and other LGBTQ youth, “Pose” pays homage to the ballroom scene first unveiled in the award-winning documentary “Paris is Burning.” Contestants compete by “walking” in various categories: intricate, themed performances in which they twist their bodies into elegant poses — called voguing — while the crowd claps, snaps and jeers. The show also explores how queer people created support systems called “houses” for those who did not live with their traditional families but instead lived with mothers, fathers and siblings of their own choosing.

The season finale airs Sunday, and FX just announced a second season of “Pose,” with the largest cast of trans people in a scripted series in tow.

The Post chatted with actress and singer Mj Rodriguez, who plays Blanca Evangelista of the House of Evangelista on the show. She’s the tough, loving mother, the glue who holds her family together. Blanca Evangelista also is determined to leave her mark on the ballroom scene. Just like Blanca, Rodriguez is no stranger to seizing her moment. Rodriguez took on “Pose” after receiving plenty of buzz on Broadway, where she debuted as a “gender queer” woman named Angel Dumott Schunard in “Rent.”


Indya Moore as Angel in a scene from “Pose.” (JoJo Whilden/FX via AP)

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

“Paris is Burning” was also set around the 1980s, but how do you think that “Pose” is moving the conversation forward?

“Paris is Burning” was only just a glimpse into what was happening within the ballroom scene. The difference is that “Pose” is opening the lens a little bit more and it’s diving into the personal lives of these women who fought for their kids — who raised their kids to be strong individuals so that they can move on and have a legacy, too.

Can you talk a little about the ballroom scene as family or an avenue for creating family?

This is the place where you see your sisters, where you see your brothers. I mean, yes, you have your rivalries and that’s all cute and dandy, but at the end of the day, most of these people came together because they knew that the outside world, especially in 1987, would not accept them.

Where did you draw the inspiration to play Blanca? Are there any mothers that you were inspired by?

There’s one specific person who actually was my house father. He was the one who instilled a lot of things in me as far as my technique. But most importantly, believe it or not, what I truly pulled from when it comes to just the mother aspect of it is my actual mother. She’s just been a strong poignant figure in my life, and I just make sure I show homage to the character. I try to act most of the time like my mother, but I try to incorporate both of their nuances or some of their personality traits within Blanca.


Dominique Jackson as Elektra Abundance in “Pose.” (JoJo Whilden/FX)

What has taking on “Pose” been like versus your other roles?

Me being a trans woman who is heterosexual, I thought that straight people would just completely nix it and would be like “No this is not it — we don’t see it.” But honey, they have been seeing it! And I really do believe it’s because of the writing. The reception of the show has been so wonderful and for people who have been marginalized for such a long time, especially the African American and Latino side of the community, to see how our stories are finally being told and in the most loving, raw way.

The show also tackles this idea of realness. What does that mean to Blanca?

Blanca sees realness as an authentic way of living and that simply means just walking down the street and just being undetectable — not because of her transness but she’s just simply being. She’s just truly living her real and unapologetic self. And also, I mean with it being 1987, she incorporates being able to “pass.” This was a situation back in the day where passing was not a privilege, it was a survival tactic and a lot of women of trans experience who would resort to “passing” in order to survive. (The term “passing” refers to being accepted or acknowledged as a member of a certain group based on conventional social norms; for transgender people, “passing” means being acknowledged for the gender they identify with and not the biological term or sex assigned at birth.)

What does realness mean to Mj?

Realness, the category [is] realness. That is a very highlighted category because a lot of the girls from 1987 all the way into 2018 walk that category. It’s to embellish the many aspects of womanhood they have whether it be their body or it be their face [or] their mannerisms. It’s just a way of life and how womanhood is [represented] through our bodies. How womanhood knocked on our door and we said, “Okay, we’re inviting you in.” That’s how I receive it.

What do you think “Pose” is teaching people watching about family and acceptance?

I think it’s teaching people to be more open, to listen more, to understand more, to love harder, to challenge the narrative [and] to open their hearts up more and receive information. And most importantly, it’s speaking about black women and the trans experience. It’s addressing the reality that we are the women we are. We are simply human and we’ve always been the people that we’ve been.

imp?s=279058&sz=1x1&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8 imp?s=279059&sz=1x1&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8
imp?s=1909&sz=116x15&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8 imp?s=95919&sz=69x15&li=aboutus&m=21b0206a4e1e08a5ff34d4e136e26106&p=5b51c7c2fe1ff616fd8a6ed8

Puerto Rican actor/comedian Suni Reyes explains why it was important to create a West Side Story parody video
(Latino Rebels)

Young Jean Lee’s unsafe spaces
(New York Times)

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts: How Neo-Nazis and ancient Greeks met in Charlottesville

Yes, black people like camping
(Outside Magazine)

How white people handle diversity training in the workplace

Trouble reading? Click here to view in your browser.
You received this email because you signed up for About US or because it is included in your subscription.
Manage my email newsletters and alerts | Unsubscribe from About US
Privacy Policy | Help
©2018 The Washington Post | 1301 K St NW, Washington DC 20071

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s