Racism and Our Personal Safety
Racism and Our Personal Safety
I remember when racism first intersected with our personal safety, though at the time I didn’t realize that it was racism. My partner B, a Black female, and I, a white male, were relaxing for brunch in Venice, by Santa Monica, California. B spoke of how she felt uncomfortable with me. Her words really bothered me then. B spoke of how she would want to feel that I would physically protect her, if she was attacked. She felt that I would try to protect myself, but not her. At the time, her words both surprised, and bothered me.
I applied for conscientious objector status at age 18, in 1969. As a child, we were not allowed squirt guns, because they were guns. I do not recall ever holding or possessing a weapon or something used for self-defense; a gun, knife, pepper spray or anything remotely similar.
With B, we had already talked about sexism. We both rejected various gender roles and similar. At the time, I thought that what B spoke of reflected an anomaly in her views of us as female and male individuals.
Now, after almost 19 years together, I recognize that racism reflects the key factor as to where our division was then, and where it remains today.
For quite a few years, it appears, looking back, that B was gradually moving into feeling safer as a Black Person, than she had felt. Driving and riding in our car, was always one area where our divide was most vivid. Living in Seattle, B was resistant to our going together into Idaho. She felt that the white nationalist movement centered in Northern Idaho was a potential danger to her physical safety. I thought her fears irrational. Nothing negative happened when we traveled to Northern Idaho to pick up a dog. I thought then that this proved the irrationality of her fears, and would help lesson them.
Driving in Florida was always a challenge, particularly when outside large cities. Seeing pickup trucks with their confederate flags was difficult for both of us. We both were aware that any one of these racist white men (there was always a white male driver) could ram our car or attempt to shoot us with a gun. Though we’ve never had an incident, this remains scary for both of us. When recently driving in North Carolina, we similarly saw a lot of confederate flags, both on small trucks and on houses we drove by in small town areas near where we stayed.
My fears have been limited to such situations. For B, however, the issues dig much deeper!
Clearly, Donald Trump has greatly expanded B’s fears (and to a lesser degree mine). B brought up the idea that we might need to flee to Canada multiple times over the past few years. She got very upset with me that I seemingly wasn’t taking her concerns seriously enough. She asked me on at least one occasion to research how we could best escape. Finally, I talked with her at length, acknowledging that her fears weren’t irrational.
We’ve moved forward in planning in one token, but significant way.
As it has been for the entire time we’ve been together, the issue comes up most commonly when we are driving somewhere. For B, there are issues related both to racism and homo/trans phobias, as well as a combination of both of them. She feels that the Midwest is much more dangerous than the West Coast is.
Again, my views of relative safety differ from B’s. Driving from Seattle to Portland, as well as driving east towards Spokane, one leaves a “blue” dominant area, to a very conservative, “red” area. For me, parts of the areas outside of the Chicago Area, feel “less conservative” to me, than the Pacific Northwest does. For B, it feels different, and much scarier here.
Driving outside of urban areas, particularly, has always made our racial differences very clear. For B, one always tried/tries to stay on interstate highways, or main roads. Always, she wants to know exactly how we will go – no adlibbing our plans.
In 2019 we drove to Alpine Valley, in Southern Wisconsin, to see B’s favorite, Jimmy Buffett. While I felt a faint, mild racist vibe there, it was barely noticeable to me. We won’t ever return there, because of B’s fears. I fully accept the reality of these feelings, and that they are most reasonable.
Self-defense is an issue here. I don’t feel any need for us to defend ourselves. B feels it important to do what she can, to try to feel less unsafe in Chicago, where we live. She asked me about what I would “allow”. I responded, differentiating between “allowing” and “being comfortable with”. She is basically respecting my feelings.
We live in very challenging times. Both B and I feel a potential danger from right wing men. Examples of potential danger are frequently in the news related to police and non-police killings, the January 6th Capitol Assault, the words of Donald Trump, his apologists and more. Social media commonly has scary things from both white men and women. I would guess that B feels some racial divide in terms of how others see safety issues in her work. Her talks with other BIPOC People often center on safety issues.
For me safety remains more in my head, than in my heart. Gradually I feel more and more danger, but a divide between B and I remains. I laugh (not the “ha-ha” type) when I hear how structural racism doesn’t exist, and that racism is not a huge problem today. I see how dangerous racism is every day through my personal life as a white man, with a Black female partner. It isn’t pretty!