The story of that cop tossing the girl to the floor in a South Carolina classroom is still a big talking point down here. And the other day, while discussing the story, and then sidetracking into a story about race and racism, a co-worker said to me, “I’m not racist. I don’t even see color.”
I told her she was a fool, and I’ll tell you why …
Of course you see color, everyone does. If you see a Black man on the street you can see right away he’s Black, but, and it’s a big but, it’s what you do after you see the color that defines you. Do you just keep moving along, thinking nothing of it, or do you react by, say, clutching your purse tighter, checking to make sure you have your wallet, crossing the street, or looking around for help?
"I am hiding in the office. I don't want them to see me out there."
That's what a store employee at Schwanke-Kasten Jeweler told a 911 dispatcher last week because she saw four Black men outside the store. She hid, and called for help because Black men — one of whom was Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson — were outside the store.
And it wasn’t a onetime thing either; there are police recordings that began several days earlier when John Henson called the store to ask what time they closed. And a clerk, realizing that it was a “Black” voice on the end of the line, instantly called 911:
Store Employee: We just had a couple suspicious phone calls lately at this store, and we were just wondering if for the next hour, one of the Whitefish Bay cops could park in front of the store until we close.
911 Operator: What were the phone calls about?
Store Employee: They were just asking about what time they're going to close. They just didn't sound like they were legitimate customers.
And when John Henson and his friends came by the store later that day, they found that it was already closed for the day. A police officer, stationed nearby, watched as Henson and his friends walked up to the store, and he ran the license number off their car; you know, Black.
And then a few days later, when John Henson went back to the jewelry store:
Store Employee [to 911]: The officer told us if they came back, we're supposed to call again. They're at our front door now and we're not letting them in. I am hiding in the office. I don't want them to see me out there. We're pretending like we're closed. They're looking in the window. They're just kind of pacing back and forth. I don't feel comfortable letting them in. I just really don't at all.
America, in 2015, where four Black men at a jewelry store are a problem; where for Black men, looking in the windows of a store that should be opened, but is suddenly closed, are a threat.
So, when people say they don’t see color, they do; everyone does. But it’s what you do when you see the color that truly defines you.