With the George Zimmerman trial underway and a video of police harassing an unarmed, ethnically ambiguous teen in New York City making the rounds, Levar Burton was invited on CNN last week to talk about his experiences as an Of Color.
It’s hard to get much more Oreo than Geordi LeForge (I believe if you check the scoreboard, however, I still have him beat. Sure he taught kids to read, but he was also in Roots), but even Mr. Burton feels the need to disarm police by proving well in advance though he is black, he is not a threat.
He here is describing the rites and rituals he goes through when dealing with law enforcement. LB’s best practices include removing protective eyewear and hanging his hands out the window.
Equally as shocking as his cop stop ritual is the fact that this dude has a 33-year-old son! Seriously, we do not crack.
His elaborate safety routine reminds me of the myriad tips women get to avoid being sexually assaulted. Like this list that encourages you to dress down so you can go all krav maga if you need to. Or this one from The University of Colorado that advised, among other things, urinating on command to gross out the person who doesn’t have any compunction about committing a felony on your screaming body, but who apparently is totally icked out by pee.
Between following safety tips related to being black and safety tips related to being a woman, I have a lot to do every day. In case you want to play along at home, here’s my daily routine that’s kept me out of harm’s way thus far. Let me know if it works for you.
0600 – Wake up and ensure that all doors are in fact still locked and that no one uninvited is in bed.
0620 – Refill outdoor fountains emptied by raccoons during the night so home looks functional and free-flowing, not ghetto and broken
0630 – Begin vocal warm ups so I can convincingly practice arias during commute
0700 – Choose outfit for work. Check necklines, hemlines and overall tightness of said outfit.
0730 – Change outfit just in case.
0745 – Do makeup
0750 – Remove some makeup just in case.
0800 – Stare at (gluten-free) bagel and wish that lipstick application was saved for later to avoid gross red ring around bites of bagel.
0810 – Think about the time my boss made fun of me a couple of years ago for wearing red lipstick the day we had a meeting with a celebrity. The day in question, I had actually forgotten about said meeting and was just trying to look like a professional human. The celeb wasn’t my type anyway (read: black dude). Wonder how often I give off that particular wrong impression.
0817 – Check calendar and see that I have an evening event. Practice holding keys in a stabby way between index and middle finger.
0820 – Look up prices for pepper spray online. Wonder if I will be tracked by some authority for trying to buy weapons online.
0825 – Practice jogging through the house in today’s heels to make sure escape is possible.
0827 – Practice answers to “…did you do something to your hair? It looks—“
0828 – HolycrapI’mlate! (Leave for work.)
0842 – Roll down windows and turn up volume on NPR
0850 – Accidentally make eye contact with man in the next car over. Smile because it’s polite, then call boyfriend on speakerphone.
0900 – Notice that after three turns, guy in the next car over is now behind me. Sweat about this.
0903 – Make a 4th turn and lose my tail. Wonder if he knows too much, anyway.
0910 – Arrive at work. Avoid eye contact with strangers on the way in. Feel like a jerk, but then at least we won’t have a repeat of the great “But We Were Just Talking” incident of 2012 or the “We’ll Just Find Another Department For You” incident of 2009.
0915 – Accept compliment on blouse and wonder if I chose poorly.
1200 –Run errand. Roll down windows and sing È amore un ladroncello to distract from the fact that skin is extra brown from 4th of July beach time.
1245 – Check email to see that there is a flurry of new video comments. Sort between the ones that say they like the video, so they’d like to do me and the ones that say they hate the video so they want to rape me. Put phone down for a while.
1835 – Leave office. Sing Ach, Ich fühl’s on the way to Ralph’s.
1837 – Feel guilty because yes, stranger in your snazzy polo shirt, I do have a minute for marriage equality, I’m just too hungry to take that minute right now.
1850 – Check messages. Stop at stoplight. See cop.
1851 – Reach into interior jacket pocket to get chapstick. Realize what this might looks like. Freeze with hand there like I’m Napoleon or checking for heart murmurs.
1852 – Crack windows and turn up Next to Normal soundtrack.
1853 – Smile at cop.
1925 – Arrive at venue.
1926 – Find parking spot near a light.
1927 – Exit car, check locks twice.
1928 – Call boyfriend and give him ETA while speaking loudly enough to be heard by passersby.
1929 – Memorize cars immediately next to mine.
1930 – Text girlfriends and mention my whereabouts.
1931 – Whistle and sing to myself while walking quickly, but with a casual air to appear unafraid.
1935 – Pay entrance fee with exact change
1940 – Start swing dancing like it’s 1939.
2035 – Take a break outside. Stand near entrance and several paces over from the man with the weird eyes.
2045 – Use monosyllabic answers to try to deter the man with the weird eyes.
2046 – Position body facing away from Weird Eyes
2047 – Loudly excuse myself and squeeze past WE to go back inside
2050 – Dance like it’s 1949
2230 – Collect belongings and position key in stabby position.
2231 – Try to shake instructor’s hand. Apologize.
2232 – Reach into purse to get cell phone. See cop up ahead.
2232 – Empty contents of purse on ground to prove their lack of threat.
2235 –Smile too big at cop. Unclench fist. Drop protective keys. Do an adorable, clumsy curtsey to pick up said keys and all purse contents. Hope that this near seizure of poise looks less suspicious than actual skin color. Ask cop what he thought about Britain’s historic Wimbledon win.
2240 – Finish explaining what I mean by Britain’s historic Wimbledon win.
2245 – Arrive at char. Check underneath.
2246 – Check behind
2247 – Check backseat
2248 – Check glove compartment
2249 – Dash inside and immediately lock doors
2315 – Pull up at house
2316 – Scan area for potential threats
2317 – Remove keys from ignition and position them in stabby position
2318 – Grab purse close, ensure that it’s zipped
2319 – Answer phone and explain to boyfriend why I’ve been sitting in the car for 5 minutes.
2320 – Exit car and speak loudly and clearly to thwart attackers
2321 – Enter house, say hi to boyfrizzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZzzzzzz
2322 – Dream of a day when practicing proper precautions is less exhausting than 3 hours of swing dancing.
What do you do to keep yourself from being besieged upon by strangers. Let us know in the comments!