Sunday, August 28, 2016

Playing the Dangerous "White Card"

It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.  Luke 6:41-42, The Message.

This is my first official blog post from and about Detroit.  Kind of.  It's not gonna be pretty.  My family is settling into a new life: first: out of California; second, in Michigan (and right now part of that is humidity and mosquitos); and third, in Detroit.  I want to start by declaring this: Detroit is rivaling New Orleans in warm hospitality, and with the bayou soul coursing through my blood, that's really saying something!  Now we haven't fully settled into Detroit, as we are doing our best to patiently listen to the advice of native Detroiters, patiently listen to what it will take and what it will mean for a family of European descent to move in the area bordered by 8 Mile Road, Outer Drive, Telegraph and I'm not yet sure what the Southern border is....

So what this means, now, is that we are staying in my childhood home at 13 mile and Southfield, and thankful for the blessing that is family in such a time as this.  I do recognize this as a privilege and I am grateful.  We are visiting church after church.  And the hospitality is flowing...a deep sense of table setting hospitality from all sectors of this city.  

Honing into the topic of this blog: this also means I'm spending time bouncing between suburb and city.  And yesterday, I was working out at a gym in the suburbs, several miles North.  What follows is so troubling, it's hard to write.

Two young men, both of European descent, were working out.  One was wearing shorts with writing that suggests he goes to a high performing Catholic high school nearby.  From some of their conversation, it was clear he's on their football and/or lacrosse team, while the other young man is probably on their hockey team.  I was doing my hybridized P90X Saturday routine, which placed me right near them on the free weights for my entire workout.  Rather than try to write this in full story form, as it followed like an in-between-reps kind of conversation, I'm just going to type out their quotes, as best as I can remember them. I did take some notes on my phone, and I was also walking nearer and further between my own reps, so I didn't catch everything.

"Dude, I got a ticket last night, leaving the game.  Rolled through a stop sign.  Well, it was actually rolling through a stop sign, and I was out past 10pm curfew, and...."

"What would your mom say if she knew you weren't sober?"

"Oh, she'd never let me drive again.  Keys taken, done deal."

"Dude, I like my back, but I want to get it jacked.  There's this girl I met last night...."

"I can always get out of a ticket, what have you said to get out of 'em?"  

"No, I didn't get out last night, but just got it for the stop sign.  Thank God."

"I'm always respectful to the cops.  I actually know some.  Yeah, you know, my old hockey coach is a detective now, so I always drop his name.  Always.  Sometimes it works.  Seems like it always softens the blow."

"Did you hear about (female name)?  I used to think she was one of the hags, but she's actually pretty cool.  Until she had to get her stomach pumped."

"For what?"

"Alcohol poisoning or some dumb shit like that.  Now she's all heavy about it, like won't go to parties and makes everyone feel really bad about it.  Sucks.  But she was totally there last night."

"Where do you go?"

"I used to go to (couldn't hear it), but it's such a long drive, it's almost not worth it."

"I can get 2 ounces in Redford, and I can turn around and sell that pretty quickly, so that's the best route."

"You know, I can't believe why some people are rude to cops."

"Can you get tried as an adult at 16, or is it just 17?"

"So when's your next game?"

"Oh dude, we have all these out of state games, in Ohio, in Chicago, it's gonna get crazy....."

It went on for over an hour.  Now, I'm actually not surprised, because I grew up hearing this kind of talk in the suburbs all the time.  What I am shocked at was how cavalier and loud they were being.  It was as though they knew, in their bones, that nothing at all would happen to them.  No consequences whatsoever, so they didn't even mind that I could hear almost every word they said.  That is definitely a problem of white privilege.  This is playing the White Card.

I am a person who intentionally steps into potential conflicts, if I feel called.  I struggled here, I wanted to call them out, but once I heard they were actually minors, I decided not to.  They don't know me, we've never met.  I did, however, report their discussion to the club manager.  She took it very seriously.  I will follow up with her.

Because here's the thing: I know this to be, tragically, commonplace.  I know this is, what many pink-skinned Americans like to refer to as "boys will be boys."  I'm fed up with it.  I'm tired of being told by society that police officers arrest people who are "more likely to commit crimes."  These two young men, 16 and 17 years old, were bragging about drunk driving, bragging about their connections in the police department to avoid convictions; might have been suggesting situations in which girls are pressured into drinking heavily for a greater likelihood that they might consent to sexual activity; and discussing their personal business practices of dealing drugs.  But just one glance at them, they were, in Hollywood casting terms, "nice high school boys" who are probably going to be celebrated as star athletes.  Because, I gotta hand it to the older guy: his back was pretty jacked.

They committed crimes last night.  They are devising ways to commit crimes in the future, and have a plan for how to get out of punishment if they are caught.  They are dangerous.  And they should be stopped.

Will they?  That's up to us.  Should we heavily profile the young brown-skinned men who are more likely to be convicted of crimes?  Or should we consider, what I think most of us know to be true whether we want to admit it or not, that "(white) boys will be boys" has glossed over years of sins and crimes, many very dangerous, and all of them unjust.  I myself am guilty of part of this, I blogged on it just last week.  I've pulled my White Card to get out of traffic tickets, too.

People commit crimes out of desperation.  Teenagers, and I don't care what race they are, are desperate for attention and status.  Why are these two young men so caught up in drugs and parties?  They want cool credit, street cred, they want to be dope.  They want sex.  Or something close to that.  They will do whatever it takes to get it, and even if they know the consequences, they're gonna do it anyway.

And then again, do the consequences even apply to them fully?  Or will they be able to play their White Card, which, I'm aware, is more powerful in places with higher socio-economic status.  Whites from lower income areas do not get off so easily, I know full well, I've listened to their stories on Skid Row and in Detroit area prisons.  But who may have to die at these young men's drunk hands?  What girl might wind up pregnant or poisoned with alcohol because she was trying to impress the likes of them?  I know some of those girls.  I attended a few funerals in my 16 year old days.

Or: could we take the speck out of our own eyes, the sneer out of our own look, in regards to who we consider as dangerous?  Could we allow our brown-skinned youth a similar form of grace and second chances?  Could we profile all teenagers, in general, as being more likely to do dumb-ass shit for attention, while still surrounding all of them with equal portions of love and redirection?  Could they all do time together, reasonably, and not see only some of them go on to become successful business owners while others are kissing their young adulthood, and often the majority of their lives, goodbye, for doing exactly the same thing as their richer, whiter, peers?

It's time to put it on the table: it's the White Card that's the most dangerous of all.  I'm doing my best to not use it, and I need accountability there too.  We all do.

Peace by peace,
 +Matthew John Schmitt
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