Interesting piece in The Atlantic about the indignities of “stop and frisk,” and as Richard Pryor might say, a white guy wrote it so you know it’s true.
When I heard that my 21-year-old son, a student at Harvard, had been stopped by New York City police on more than one occasion during the brief summer he spent as a Wall Street intern, I was angry. On one occasion, while wearing his best business suit, he was forced to lie face-down on a filthy sidewalk because—well, let’s be honest about it, because of the color of his skin. As an attorney and a college professor who teaches criminal justice classes, I knew that his constitutional rights had been violated. As a parent, I feared for his safety at the hands of the police—a fear that I feel every single day, whether he is in New York or elsewhere.
We’re often related stories of the injustice of middle-class “good” black kids being treated like, well, black kids. If this young man’s constitutional rights had been violated, they were not earned in the first place because he was a Harvard student, a Wall Street intern, or the son of a white man. The CUNY student frisked on his way back to Bed-Stuy while working summers bussing tables also deserves the presumption of innocence.
Also, I’ve known many Ivy League kids and Wall Street raiders on drugs. The first time I saw cocaine it was in the possession of a Columbia student.
This example is by no means unique. My African-American brother-in-law, a white-collar professional, was driving to my house on Thanksgiving Day with his 20-something son when their car was stopped and surrounded by multiple police vehicles. The police officers immediately pointed guns at my relatives’ heads. If my brother-in-law or nephew—or one of the officers—had sneezed, there could have been a terribly tragic police shooting. After the officers looked them over and told them they could go, my relatives asked why they had been stopped
Again, the author puts his black relative on a social pedestal — not like them, more like us, and deserving of better treatment. Why else would he mention the profession of his brother in law? Especially when we’ve established his own suburban professional credentials? We presume that his brother in law is not a plumber but if he were a blue collar worker, would that justify a random police stop? And in the officers’ defense, how would they know what his brother in law does for a living?
America is a simultaneously racist and classist society. Recent rhetoric about the poor (lazy, unmotivated, no work ethic) demonstrates the latter but also the former (the rhetoric is usually targeted toward the coded “inner city male”). And that’s the key: A strictly classist society can offer mobility — it doesn’t matter who your parents are. If you work hard, you can escape the confines of your birth. But a racist society does not offer that mobility. It will always matter who your parents are — or at least the parents you more closely resemble.
Black Americans are still Americans and as such are susceptible to the American illness of classism, and its virulent lie that if you work hard, follow the rules, you can advance up the ladder, which somehow justifies the mistreatment of everyone “beneath” you. The rage among many middle and upper class black males who are randomly stopped, frisked, or followed is not that anyone in this country regardless of status is treated this way but that they are when they have earned their position among the elite. It is a shell game of course, because race is a fixed class, and the Harvard Wall Street intern and the black “white collar professional” will never attain the status in this country that is innate for white people, regardless of what they do for a living.