Many times I hear, “We are the same,” but until we are treated the same, in the eyes of the law, we are not the same.
I could talk for a long time about the things I have seen and experienced. And yes, right here in our little town. Women grabbing their purses to protect them from my ‘natural tendency to be criminal;’ being followed around a store; being called a nigger in every school I have ever attended; being convinced as a young child that I could not achieve the grades of my fellow students because we were bred to be hard workers not hard thinkers; the history that I was taught in school never once focusing on a person of colour, with the exception of Martin Luther King Jr. I understand Dr. King is palatable. It is something I learned early on: don’t rock the boat, keep your voice down, do not appear angry, hurt, or aggressive in any way.
I learned how to navigate the tiny micro-aggressions, like someone saying to me, “Wow, you are so well spoken, when we were on the phone, I thought you were white.” Or a grown man telling me he had always had a fetish and dream of being with a black woman; at the time he said that to me, I was 12. We are not the same.
We are different—so different that air can be denied us, and our rights seem fluid.
One night last year I was pulled over. I was a designated driver. My partner had been drinking and was in the passenger side. We needed orange juice for breakfast. I remember I left him in the car, went into the store on the corner of McDonnel and Alymer, and when exiting the corner store, I watched an officer pull up to the light.
Walking back to the car, the police officer went around the corner and drove on, and I thought, “I hope this cop doesn’t bother me.” Getting in my car, I handed the juice to my partner. As I pulled onto the road and signalled to turn right, I saw the same officer pull around the block.
I looked over to my partner and told him, “He’s going to pull us over. Can you grab the insurance and registration? And please, do not move and do not say anything.”
I have always, as far back as I can remember, been terrified when police were around.
He looked at me confused and said, “But you haven’t done anything wrong. You’re my DD.”
What he was really saying to me at that moment was,“My privilege has never experienced this—and I’m scared.”
I knew that this moment was going to be a first experience for him and I hoped it would go well.
I will never know how it felt to him, to experience a privilege you have always been afforded being stripped away.
You see, as uncomfortable as it often makes people, we are not the same. We are different, and I have always, as far back as I can remember, been terrified when police were around.
That night, I had more than one gun pointed in my direction. That night, I was detained on the road, with my life wrapped over their trigger fingers.
Sure enough, lights came on behind us. I pulled off the road, out of the way, under a street light, like my father had all to often instructed me to do when dealing with the police.
I rolled my window down, shut my car off, and placed my information and my hands on the dashboard.
That night, my car was surrounded by police. He had at some point requested other officers attend the scene. That night, I had more than one gun pointed in my direction. That night, I was detained on the road, with my life wrapped over their trigger fingers.
I know my partner still does not understand, we are not the same.
Two weeks earlier, coming down the same road, me in the passenger seat, the situation for him played out differently. I remember him playing dumb for the first three minutes of the encounter, pretending he didn’t know how to roll the window down. I remember the confusion when he asked me to reach into the glove box and grab his information and I declined, placing my hands instead on the dash. My partner’s encounter with the police lasted 10 minutes. The officer looked into the car, asked him a few questions, looked at his license, and informed him he had a headlight out.
Then the officer shone his flashlight on my face, and asked my partner pointedly if he was alright. I can still see the colour rise in my partner’s cheeks as he nodded and informed the officer that it was date night and he was fine. And that was it: encounter over. No guns, just looking at information, a quick wellness check, and on the way.
We had a conversation about pain and hate, poverty, crime, and injustice, about anger, lives filled with reminders we are not enough.
On the drive home I looked over at my partner, the man I loved and had planned a family with, and told him we would have to have a conversation.
It is a conversation I wish more people would be willing to have. I told him of moments of breathlessness, being pinned to a car, I told him of brother and sisters gunned down in the street, I told him truth. I told him of being followed through stores, refused service, men who drop change on the counter to avoid touching my skin. My origins questioned, I told him about moments of weakness, where I pretended to be less than the queen I am. We had a conversation. A conversation about pain and hate, poverty, crime, and injustice, about anger, lives filled with reminders we are not enough. The success of this conversation was that he remained open to listening to my fears and anger, and didn’t brush it aside or tell me that I was unjustified.
When I finally told him, “You can’t raise our sons as white boys; you will get them killed,” he said he had never been anything but white. I said, “Well, you better learn or we will be burying our children.”
Because, my love, we are not the same. We are different. And this does happen; it happened to me, right here in Peterborough.
Please take this: if we never raise our voices, nothing will ever change. If we never tell them it is wrong, we will be exactly where we are right now, days, months, years, and generations from now. My gramps used to say, “Sometimes all you can do is blow the horn.” And this is us blowing our horn. Change needs to come.
Illustration by B Mroz.