Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

cram halfFor all the Jamals of the world

My friends and I stroll through the mall but no one notices us. I stop at a convenience store on the way home, and no one’s pulse spikes in fear. If I move into your section of town, you don’t think, “There goes the neighborhood.”

I am a white woman. Therefore, unless I draw attention to myself, people leave me alone. People don’t fear me or worry that I might be carrying a concealed weapon. In the event that I do something stupid, people say, “That was really stupid.” They do not say, “See? All those white women are idiots.” Nope. Just this white woman.

Now imagine that you are black, especially a black male. If you think bigotry is a thing of the past, make this trip with me. If you are black, you know all too well what I am about to describe.

Let’s say you’re a man named Jamal. You stroll through the mall with a few friends. Shopkeepers keep a sharp eye on you when you enter their store in case you shoplift. Or worse, you might be violent.

On the way home you stop at a convenience store for a quart of milk. Women clutch their purses tight and moms reach to keep their children safe. Your offense is being a black man.

Some of the most pronounced assumptions appear when you drive a nice car through a white section of town. People are likely to assume that you’re up to no good, that you’re casing the neighborhood to burglarize a home.

Some years ago, an honor student at an excellent university went home for the weekend and, on Saturday, he borrowed his father’s Cadillac. In the course of the day, this young honor student was pulled over by police not once, but four times, despite the fact that he broke no laws. Do you know why? It’s called DWB: Driving While Black. He was a black man driving a nice car. The irony is that the young man’s father was the chief of police.

Ask any black man in America and it’s a good bet that he, too, has been stopped for DWB. Shop owners ask him for more forms of identification than they ask of white patrons. Negative assumptions are made about Jamal before he opens his mouth, makes a purchase or climbs into a driver’s seat.

When a black man elsewhere in the country commits a violent crime, people look at Jamal with suspicion. You see, Jamal does not have the luxury of being just Jamal. He bears on his shoulders the actions of all black men.

Our prejudice is widespread. In newspapers, books and conversations, a female named Shirley might be described as a 62-year-old woman, while a woman named Althea will be described as a 62-year-old black woman. Do you see the underlying assumption? If race is not stated, it is assumed to be white. Why? Because we view white as standard. People of color are not standard.

Ever notice the color of Band-Aids? They’re meant to blend in with skin – Caucasian skin. Crayon companies have a color named “flesh” – Caucasian flesh. White is the standard.

Don’t even think about trying to hail a cab. A Hollywood actor once said, “[As a black man], I’ve got a better chance of winning the Heisman Trophy than going out and getting a cab.” The TV show “60 Minutes” captured this phenomenon on film. A well-dressed white businessman hailed a cab on a city street within minutes, while a well-dressed black businessman on the same street gave up after 40 minutes, unsuccessful.

Do you still think bigotry is a thing of the past?

Bigotry. It is a preconceived, unreasonable judgment marked by suspicion, fear or intolerance. It exists in our country, it exists in our churches, it exists in our homes and it exists in our hearts.

The Apostle Paul wrote that in Christ, we must put away the old divisions between us. He made the radical statement that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; for all have been made one in Christ.

In other words, in Christ, there is no place for racism. Let me say that again. In Christ, there is no place for racism.

Equality is important to God. It needs to be important to us.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.