Updated: May 13
Sometimes a gift can feel dangerous. Being Black in America can mean turning down a well intended offer because of potential perils. Our friends offered use of their vehicle to my husband and I while visiting Minneapolis. We declined, because we were uncomfortable with the risk.
We CONSIDERED the consequence of being stopped by police, and presenting a Georgia license, while driving a vehicle whose Minnesota tags and registration do NOT match our ID.
We CONSIDERED the absurd questions asked, and unwarranted citation issued, when last stopped in our OWN vehicle in my husband’s home state of NC.
We CONSIDERED that we are Black in the metro area in which George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Daunte Wright were all killed, in encounters with police that went horribly awry.
We CONSIDERED the unshakable LACK of peace we both felt in our gut. And we thanked our friends for their kindness and generosity. And we passed on the gracious offer.
We didn’t have to wonder long if we’d been overly cautious. Within 30 minutes of entering the Mall of America on the day of our arrival, my husband was presumed to be a shoplifter as we shopped at the company with which he's been employed for decades. I texted my friend, shared what transpired, and ended with: “THIS is an example of why we are uncomfortable borrowing your car.”
I share our line of thought, and the conclusion to which it led, to illustrate a greater point.
Being Black in America means shouldering a burden my White friends do NOT have to carry or contemplate. It’s not THEIR fault, it’s just the way it is. I say this, NOT to elicit sympathy, but as a statement of fact.
We’re grateful for White friends with whom we’re able to have forthright discussions about these realities.
We don’t shy away from them. We don’t turn a blind eye to the obvious. We engage in awkward and sometimes uncomfortable conversations, about the challenging realities of race because THAT is how we all learn.
My friend's first response when I expressed trepidation about use of their car was empathy:
“I’m so sorry you have to even think about that”, and shortly thereafter,
“I’m sorry I can’t tell you it’s not a valid concern.”
In subsequent discussions, she shared how in her life seeing police has never made her feel anything other than safe. As a White woman she’s had no reason to consider encounters with police as hazardous or life threatening.
I shared how my pulse races when I see a police car in the rear mirror and how as a Black woman, I immediately run through the myriad of mental scenarios Black people HAVE to consider because our life could depend on the response.
She offered to write a letter stating that we had permission to use the car. When I shared this idea with another Black person, their first response was:
“Yeah, but would you get shot reaching for the letter? And if you were NOT shot, would you be believed?”
I’d not given voice to it, but I’d inwardly pondered the same possibility.
For most Black people, our experience with, and opinion of, police is tenuous based on harrowing past personal encounters OR observation of the harrowing encounters of friends and loved ones.
The frank dialogue between Renee and I allowed us to grant one another glimpses of life through each other’s lens.
Communication was ultimately the bridge to a solution. She and her husband took two days off and the four of us explored northern Minnesota together, in THEIR car, with THEM driving!
It was a LOT more fun, because exploring is better with friends, and even better when the friends are locals and serve as personal tour guides!
This situation is emblematic of why I’m intentional about having diversity within my friend group.
We all filter life through the lens of our experience. This can make it difficult to understand societal challenges that don’t IMPACT you, if you lack substantive engagement with people who don’t LOOK like like you, worship like you, believe like you, live like you.
The diversity of my friend group enhances my world! We learn each other’s stories, and stories are powerful. There’s a reason Jesus taught in parables. Parable is just a fancy word for story.
Stories change perceptions. Stories encourage understanding. Stories offer hope.
And don’t we ALL need more of that!