Liberty and Justice for ALL or for Some?

Updated: May 13

My husband was recently presumed to be a shoplifter. Ironically, it happened while shopping at the company with which he’s been employed most of his adult life. Ironically, he knows this company’s policies inside out including what to do to avoid looking suspicious. Ironically, he has trained countless associates and managers on these policies and protocols.

And yet....

A manager approached him and offered to “hold” the merchandise he’d selected at the checkout counter for him. He politely declined, because he was STILL shopping, and not ready to finalize his purchases.

In response, the manager followed him around the store, stopping when he stopped, moving when he moved, trailing him department to department....gaze transfixed like a lion stalking prey.

After several minutes of this, not so subtle surveillance, he’d had enough and decided to address it.

He led by introducing himself, showing ID, and disclosing his position with the company. He then detailed his observations, shared his knowledge of company shoplifting protocols, and tactfully pointed out the ways in which those protocols had been violated.

It was a very civil exchange. The manager acknowledged what had transpired, confirmed my husband’s suspicions regarding the reason for it, and swiftly apologized.

My husband ended the conversation by broaching the subject of implicit bias and stressing the importance of being mindful of it in interacting with customers.

Which leads to WHY I’m sharing this story.

I’ve grown weary of hearing that if Black people JUST cooperated, or JUST behaved more professionally, or were JUST better groomed, or JUST more articulate, or JUST....fill in the blank....

If they JUST did some of these things, or all of these things, they would not be profiled, or targeted, or discriminated against, or singled out, or randomly stopped by law enforcement officials.

That supposition — is a farce and does not comport with the lived reality of most African Americans.

In the experience of my family, these situations have become exponentially more common in recent years.

If you think it’s an issue limited to Black’s not. My daughter had the police called on she and a group of her classmates for filming a college class project, in a public park, on a Saturday, in the middle of the day, 15 minutes from my house.

Why? The woman who called said “Something didn’t look right!”. Fortunately, the policeman who arrived was polite and apologetic. But why was he called in the first place? What “didn’t look right” about a small group of college students armed with VIDEO EQUIPMENT??!!

Our recent experiences underscore a common unfortunate reality: Implicit bias is pervasive in this nation.

As long as skin color is considered IMMEDIATE cause for suspicion, to the exclusion of all else, we will continue to have these type problems.

In yesterday’s encounter, the manager volunteered that they are in an interracial relationship. But that lived reality STILL didn’t stop them from viewing us as suspicious.

Implicit bias is often subconscious. And it can adversely influence behavior—even for those who love a person of a different race. If we are ever going to live up to the aspiration of “liberty and justice for ALL”, rather than settling for liberty and justice for some, we have to deal with some harsh realities and tell ourselves the TRUTH about them.

We can’t fix what we won’t acknowledge!

I hold out hope that while many hearts have been hardened amidst the turbulence, tumult, and resurgent racism of the last few years—at the SAME time, many eyes have been opened....some for the first time.

We can imagine better. I imagine better.

In the eloquent words of Poet,

Amanda Gorman:

“One thing is certain, If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children's birthright.

The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it.”

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