When I pushed publish over a year ago, I had no idea I was starting a process of self-reflection that would prevent me from blogging for more than a year. It was scary to write and publish the story. When it went in a completely different direction than I intended, I did not know how to follow it up. I still don’t.
It has been a journey. My up-bringing of “every one is equal, end of story,” is at the root of my blindness to the black experience. I’m not alone. It’s the reason I have a hard time talking and writing about the question of race. I’m still afraid. But, I am determined to face the fear because we must have this conversation.
The comments on the story, “A White Woman, Racism, and a Poodle,” say more about the state of race relations in America than the story itself. In this blog post, I want to highlight those comments. I encourage you to read them all.
I want to thank my Dad, Paul Franks Jr., who passed away on July 7, 2020. It’s because of him I understand the old white guy perspective. Also, I want to thank my friend Kimberly Sparkle Stewart for her unique perspectives on this subject. Thank-you to Robert Wells, Oliver Pookrum, Council Cargo, Katrina Gainey and all theatre people of color who contributed to my journey of “seeing” white privilege and the extent of systemic racism.
A Word About the Title
I went back and fourth about what to call this. The current title was my first thought, but I questioned if it was too harsh. I thought about calling it, “Follow-up to A White Woman, Racism and a Poodle,” but that was too boring. The day after Juneteeth was made a Federal holiday I had this conversation with a young, white man in his mid-20s. He said, “What is Juneteeth?” and I told him. His response, “I thought we wanted to forget about slavery! Why make a holiday to remember it?” He was very angry. I had no idea how to explain it.
A few thoughts.
Many, many, many, white people; many more then I was aware of, do not believe black lives are any different than white lives. Gobsmacked is how it felt reading some of the comments. White people, in many parts of the country, were raised to believe everyone is equal end of story, end of racism in America. But when a black person walks down the street these same people do the “sneak-peek” through curtains and call the cops.
Some comments are by people who were shocked, surprised or don’t believe the black experience is any different from the white experience of America. Some didn’t believe the story and a few were outraged on behalf of Poodles. Poodles! I love my Standard Poodles and all, but really? If you read this story and think it’s about Poodles, you missed the point. As I said, people of color do not need to read this story.
Some of these comments will make you mad, but ask yourself, “How can I explain it to this person? This is what they believe? How can I move that view gently so it will stick?”
Lorrie Lowe says:
You had me until your comment about Dearborn. As someone who was born and raised there, and still has family (some are police) and friends that live there, YOU are part of the problem! Yes, Dearborn was a segregated community while I was growing up and the Mayor, Orville Hubbard, was a racist. But the man has not been mayor since 1978 (42 years!) and has been dead since 1982. For you to make the offensive comment “I was so angry I wanted to drive to Dearborn at night with Merlin in the passenger seat and create a big stink when I got pulled over. “Call the news!” I’d shout!,” perpetuates the reputation that Dearborn has tried hard to change over the last 40 years. When was the last time you were in Dearborn? Did you ever consider that maybe you are just a lousy driver?
[The statue of Mayor Hubbard was removed the day after this post was published. It is still on display in a less conspicuous spot. Like many communities, Dearborn is gripped by racism so common people do not see it.]
Read “Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain,” by David Eagleman. Our brains stitch together perceptions based on an astonishingly small quantity of real time visual input and a corresponding amount of prior “knowledge.” The cops’ brains may have actually “seen” a black person. The science backs this.
[I replied to this commenter that they did see Merlin as a black man and his reply was, I’m paraphrasing, “Oh, that’s a whole new meaning to the story. Oh, wow!” One more white person finally gets it.]
Emilio Trampuz says:
Wow! It’s amazing that there are so many racist cops around in the 21st century, and that they are so eager to harass black people. Somehow, I wouldn’t be so surprised if this happened in the deep South. But in Michigan?!! What a shame!
I really can not fathom why any police officer would pull any vehicle to a stop when he sees a white and a black person in that car. Especially in the night, because how can you see that from a distance in the dark?
I’m sorry to doubt your story, because this is obviously what you experienced, but to me it seems highly improbable that there was a racist profiling motive.
Rob Litchfield says:
I am so outraged by your clearly racist Merlin story! I wonder how many other poodle owners are subjected to this kind of disgusting, unconstitutional assault on a daily basis?! Thanks for sharing!
Michelle Brady says:
This is ridiculous. There are people that are real victims of racism/brutality, but you are trying to make this about you. Try telling this story to a black person, see if they sympathize.
Karen S ullivan says:
The point of the story is that the cops thought a black man was in the car, so they pulled the vehicle over, and drew their guns because of it. They had no probable cause, other than being black. In this country, a black person safely driving a car, (or walking in a neighborhood, or in a park) can be treated this way, just because they are black. It’s not about the woman, it’s about the woman realizing in a first hand experience what happens to our black neighbors every damn day….
Thank you for sharing your experience. I was raised not seeing color but souls. I wish everyone was raised like I was.
It sounds like there are a lot of scared people out there on both sides. The woman in the story speaks of being scared. Then, the police officers are acting scared as they interact with this woman.
I believe in protect and serve. I see it. My son is a police officer, I see him doing good things every day. He was even videoed by a community member while he was playing basketball with some teens in his patrol area – the community member was commenting on how great it was to have police helping in the community. My son makes a point to get to know the people in his area and looks after them.
Please stop taking a wide brush of hatred across a group of people who are there to protect and serve us. There are bad cops and ones who became a cop just so they can show their muscle and be jerks, yes, but most police officers took that job to make a difference and help, like my son. It’s talk like this that only exacerbates the situation. We need police reform, but it needs to be done in a way that brings the community and police department together – working to make things better, not pitting them against each other.
Kit Dunsmore says:
This is horrifying. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to live with this level of harassment all the time just because of the color of your skin. And the people harassing you have guns and authority behind them! A perfect example of racism in action. Thanks so much for sharing this story
Carrie adams says:
Omg …to begin with ..’it scares a white woman” being pulled over by police! Have you lost ur mind lady. I’m a white woman I’ve never been SCARED when pulled over by the police. I WASNT doing anything to be scared ….iamwhite and blonde and have had 2 black standard poodles in my lifetime. No one stopped or made comments to me about my dogs……you are making a racist. Story out of BS …oh and BTW …Charley, was a light brown miniature poodle!
Stop being a pot stirrer it doesn’t work on everybody!
While I sympathize with every person’s uniquely lived experiences, this one person’s lived experience is not statistically relevant. Anecdotal evidence may or may not be an outlier, an anomaly, or may in fact be representative of what’s going on, but ultimately stories such as this one rely upon looking at data and facts to make a significant point. This article is a story with a narrative that does not in any way cite facts or statistics beyond one person’s lived experience (assuming they didn’t make this all up). Just because someone lived through an experience, doesn’t make them an expert in public policy either. All this article does is shame people into feeling bad for others so that they overlook the statistical facts. Unfortunately, humans, in general, are more drawn to narratives than facts.
Leslie Ehrman De Palo says:
[Read this one sitting down. It’s going to make you angry. Remember this person believes they are defending black people.]
THANKS for the article…we know it is a very real thing for Americans of Color. It must be awful for all of the law abiding People of Color. The question in my mind is WHY do Police Officers pull over anyone driving who is of Color. UNFORTUNATELY, much of the actual answer is that Black crime is staggering and there is so much of it, that it is very difficult for a Police Officer to see anyone who is Black as not a criminal. This is terrible. As a country, we need to figure out a way to stop so much crime from People of Color. The honest statistics show it is way out of proportion to the general population. We have to get to the root of the problem and not sweep all police officers under the rug and say they are all racist and we do not need police officers. The people who need Police Officers the most are the poorest people in our communities, who are usually the victims of all of the Black crime in their own neighborhoods.
Racism, hatred and prejudice may have gotten the Black community to where it is, but just shouting racism is not the full answer or solution. We have been shouting racism since well before Martin Luther King powerfully articulated it in the 1960s. Although there is still racism today, it will require the Black community itself to show some pride, keep their families together, stop the drug use, the cycle of poverty and incarceration. Even if there are stronger sentences in some cases sadly due to racism, why does there have to be so many cases?
Apparently, the statistics show that 75% of all children born of a Black Father, have no Black Father — the children are Fatherless throughout their lives. This is a very tough situation for children — they need a family and all the help they can get. IF we gave each and every Black American $150k, that in and of itself would not solve the deep seated problem. To stop this dreadful cycle, should we remove every poor, Fatherless Black child out of their home and raise them in someone else’s more affluent household, no matter their color and heritage?
I remain hopeful that finding REAL solutions beyond looting, destroying property, hurting, killing and makeshift signs will one day soon solve this very difficult, challenging problem that we ALL must come to terms with for we are all in this community called humankind together. We must face it together…
[This post provoked a response from Thendi that brought tears to my eyes.]
I am leaving this as anonymous because I know I will be attacked if I left my personnel information. If you want real change start with you. If African American people do not want to be profiled, then clean up your image. Quit letting gang bangers & drug dealers run your neighborhoods. Teach your kids not to rob stores, attack the police, do drugs, etc. Fact is 46% of violent crimes are committed by 13% of the population. You want profiling to stop, you want cops & others to quit fearing you, then change the way you are perceived. Could you imangine if all these looters & “peaceful” protesters had went into these poor neighborhoods & cleaned up, painted, did house repairs, rooted out all the gang bangers & drug dealers? They would have saved more lives than defunding the police ever could. I know I will be condemned for these comments, but I have to speak the truth.
Commenting as a black or rather, a dark brown woman, I can see how “Anonymous” came to have that point of view and I have to say that I appreciate the honesty. Thank you for sharing your opinion and speaking your mind. I applaud you. This is how we begin to transform and renew our minds so we can become a better society. I wish I didn’t but, I too, have something to say so please bear with me as I speak my truth.
I grew up in a multiracial community, in a household with educated parents. My dad was a physician and my mom was a nurse/midwife. As such, the standard was set at a really young age that my siblings and I were to follow in our parents’ footsteps and attend college. I did as my parents pleased and pursued a career of my own. Yes, my parents taught me not to rob stores, do drugs etc. They also taught me to respect police but more importantly, fear and avoid them at all costs because an encounter with them could lead to death. My parents did a great job raising their kids. If “Anonymous” knew them personally it would make this individual proud because they did everything “Anonymous” suggests black people teach their children. Sadly, with all the things my parents did right, society did wrong. The color of my skin, the thickness of my lips, the coarseness of my hair and the Afro shape of my body has followed me all my life. My features, my ethnicity have caused more issues in my life than necessary. From traffic stops with police showing off their guns, white teachers favoring white students, bosses reflecting their unconscious bias to doctors laughing at the shape of my body during a physical exam. I’ve had mentors tell me how to style my hair so I don’t appear too Afrocentric and how to speak so I don’t sound black with the goal of being more acceptable in the job industry. How do you suggest one processes all that Anonymous? How do you learn and love to appreciate who you are? How do you handle the unnecessary PTSD or survivor’s guilt that comes with living life as a black or brown person?
As a dark-skinned individual working in the corporate world for over a decade, you’re expected to work twice as hard with no recognition and speak up for a bonus when your white counterparts never have to because it’s something that they get unconditionally. You work 60+ hours a week and when you ask for help because it’s affecting your health, your request is not taken seriously despite tangible evidence. You are overlooked for promotions and any employee incentives. And then when you get frustrated and decide to look for another job, your resume isn’t usually selected but when it is, you dress professionally for the interview, show up extra early and the moment you sit down, you don’t get a fair chance at getting the job because the interviewer notices your color and decides to handle other important matters on the phone or approve payments so you don’t notice how uninterested they are in you now that they have met you.
Yes, this story is real and this story is mine. Racism is as alive today as it was years, decades and centuries ago. Anyone with any doubt that racism exists, please take a moment to think again.
The system, not just in America, but across the globe has done a consistent job of dragging black people and their communities down. Think colonization, slavery, cast systems and so on. Black people have had to fight for freedom, fight for justice, fight for education, fight to vote, fight for equality. Would you rather black people succumb to the issues that Native American communities are dealing with right now?
Systemic racism continues to beat darker people down. For those of us who are fortunate enough to make it in the working world, we try to support our less fortunate family members and friends through what is affectionately termed, “black tax”. Growing up, we always had cousins, aunts, uncle and strangers living with us or being supported by my parents so we were rarely ever our own little family unit. My siblings and I did not get the prestigious life we could have had. The opportunity cost would have been watching our loved ones suffer.
The past few weeks hearing talk about inequality has been difficult and somewhat exciting. It has brought some kind of light and at the end of a long dark tunnel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s bringing light to memories and behaviors as well as realization to certain experiences I’ve had masked by denial. Unfortunately, it’s also causing stress-related health issues personally. I have cried for my people and continue to cry for our society as a whole. Until black people can all be seen as equal, a part of our population will continue to suffer. Forget about 13% of the population committing 46% of the crimes. Let us ask ourselves why things are they way they are. No one grows up wanted to be a criminal. As Diana Ross sang years ago, “Reach out and touch, somebody’s hand. Make this world a better place if you can.” As the rest of the song goes, “Take a little time out your busy day to give encouragement to someone who’s lost the way (Just try).
Or would I be talking to a stone? If I asked you to share a problem that’s not your own.”
Have a receptive heart and mind, help us make a change for the better and for our future. For equality, for justice and anti-racism.
Thank you for taking time to read my post. And thanks to the author for being smart enough to recognize a behavior pattern, proactive enough to write this post and brave enough to tell her story as unbelievable as it may seem to most.
Over the past year I have done a lot of research on this issue. One series of Podcasts that stood out, and I’m not sure why, is The Vanishing of Harry Pace on Radio Lab. It touches on so many parts of racism in America, The One Drop Rule, Minstrel Shows, Blacks Going to Europe, Desegregation… so many things in this one man’s life.
Race is alway about money. No where is that better discussed than in the book, “The Sum of Us,” by Heather McGhee
Also a good read on the subject, “How to be an Anti-Racist,” by Ibram X. Kendi