“Walking While Black” and Some Teaching Resources for Addressing Racism

The Nation Photographer- https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/price-transgression/

Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

When I walked to my car after working all day at Subway in my local mall, I was tired from being on my feet all day and dealing with customers. My car was in the parking garage, only a five minute walk from the Subway in the food court. As I approached my car I was all of a sudden surrounded by police officers and soon apprehended and taken to the security office in the mall. I am not sure if my rights were even read to me. After I collected my thoughts and sifted through the yelling and accusations. I figured out that they thought I was breaking into someone’s car when I had gone to get something out of my car earlier. A white woman had seen me (A black young man) in the parking lot going to my car and assumed I was breaking in. She had done her “duty” as an American citizen and promptly called the police. I remember all I could think of was that my mom is going to be worried sick because I was supposed to be home by 6pm. This is a true story that happened to me (The author) and typical of many experiences I have had throughout my life, living as a black man. The most recent being just a few months ago. But thankfully I have not been outside much because of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, so I have had somewhat of a break from personal racist encounters.   

There are many other black youth throughout the United States that have experiences like mine everyday. The topic of racism is often swept under the rug, but incidents like the George Floyd slaying have brought it to the forefront. Admittedly, the topic of racial discrimination is one that is uncomfortable and difficult to address with students. But one’s level of comfort with a topic is not an excuse to ignore it. Furthermore, the glaring examples of racism playing out in the media now make it difficult to ignore. I have included some resources from PBS and an article about Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” film to help teachers address racism with their students. I have also included my most recent lecture on the history of violence against African Americans prepared for teachers, students and the general public.

PBS Teaching Resources- Confronting Anti-Black Racism
   
Spike Lee Shares Short Film Mixing ‘Do the Right Thing’ With Footage of George Floyd, Eric Garner

A Lecture- We Can’t Breathe: A History of Violence Against African Americans

19 Comments

  1. This is an interesting article, because it brings up the questions, “What if the “walker” was white?” “What if the “caller” was black?”, “Would the same interrogation have happened?” As a person who doesn’t consider herself racist, I would like to say, Yes, it would be the same outcome, which would be that a young, white man would have been questioned for walking to a car to retrieve something. But something tells me that this would not have the same outcome.

    Before Barack Obama was elected President, during one of his interviews, he stated that his grandmother was a typical white person who confessed “her fear of black men who passed her by on the street.” He said at the time that was not unusual for people in “her generation.”

    Unfortunately, it wasn’t just older generations. This continues. Just last month we heard on the news a case of a white woman calling police on a black man birdwatching in Central Park. This is a very timely article for what is happening currently.

  2. I will never know what it feels like to be targeted like the author was in this article. And there are too many stories like this that have been swept under the rug, until now. I believe the change that we need is the change that we are on the brink of. The argument that race shouldn’t matter is what keeps us from talking about it. It shouldn’t take an act of brutality for you to suddenly show your support. It is not enough to hate racism, you need to be apart of working towards anti-racism. I think that a lot of people are having to come to terms with their own privilege and it’s difficult, but necessary.

  3. This situation is just sad a young black man is simply walking to his car and get stopped by the police. Police officers target African Americans because they feel as if we are more likely to commit crimes. I have always been baffled by the fact that that color of our skin incriminates us. I wonder if the young man was white would he have been stopped? Probably not because they are not seen as dangerous to society which is wrong because no matter the race anyone can commit a crime.

  4. I read on Facebook a useful example of the racism African Americans have to endure. Ernest Skelton is an educated, black man who owns an appliance repair business. He shared his experiences with one of his clients and she posted it on Facebook. It has gone viral. Despite the fact that he has a college degree he has had experienced numerous people throughout his life call him “boy”. Despite the fact that he drives a work truck with labelling on the side he has been pulled over and asked to explain himself. He no longer goes out at night due to the harassment. Hopefully, stories like his and Dr Childs will cause everyone to take a hard look at today’s society.

  5. It’s the unfortunate truth that stories like yours exist. While I will never know what it is like to be discriminated by the color of my skin, I wish for a world where stories like this will cease to be. That world is impossible. Because even if racism is obliterated, it would be a crime to forget. Forgetting these stories is the same as pretending they never existed in the first place. It is our duty to learn about these stories in order to prevent racial discrimination. Thanks for the resources.

  6. The walking while black article cuts deep. It blows my mind how while doing the most simple everyday thing as not just an African American, but any minority, can seem so cruel, unjust and judgemental. In my future working with elementary children, I will find a proper way to educate and bring light to this subject. There should never be a reason someone feels scared or like their being judged by simply grabbing something from THEIR OWN car.

  7. As a white women I will never fully understand how it feels to live as a black person. However, Ive learned to listen to my fellow African American friends and family. I learned so much from just listening! We cannot ignore these issues any longer, there has to be changes not just in the George Floyd’s case but for the whole black community. America isn’t great and will never be great if it isn’t great for ALL OF US. I’m currently raising white children, and have been shamed by other mothers for explaining to my children their white privileges. I have to. they have to understand and can have empathy for their friends who are white. We have to continue to have this conversation with our kids.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. This story is a really clear example of how prejudice can warp people’s perception of what is happening around them. It must have been so scary to have been jumped on and nearly arrested out of nowhere, when you’d done nothing wrong. Examples of instances of racist actions like this are things people of color have to go through all the time, but white people would never even come close to experiencing. Thinking what it must be like to get taken in by security for something as simple as going to your car is so strange, I’m sorry you had to go through that.

  9. Living in an America that still racially profiles and punishes members of its society for the color of their skin is absolutely sickening. Being a white person, I never have to think about the possibility of being questioned, arrested, or summoned, just for the color of my skin. It’s so ridiculous for a person to be seen as a threat because they are different from the “majority.” I can slightly empathize because I am a gay male and honestly from my experience, people don’t understand what it means to be gay in a homophobic America, let alone to be judged because of the color of their skin. As a nurse, the disparities for black coworkers and patients are great and it is just as important for our healthcare system to be educated on racism as it is for teachers and their students. As we move forward in addressing systemic racism and oppression in our society, I pray that true change happens sooner rather than later.

  10. Reading through this article, I saw that you mentioned Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” film. I thought I would mention that I’m not an African American nor a Caucasian. I am Korean and in the film *spoiler*, there is a specific scene where the African Americans were going to destroy the Korean’s store, but he shouted “I am you! I am black! We same.” The groups both realized that they are oppressed by the same oppressor and chose to stand with each other. All People of Color are oppressed, but African Americans are being targeted. During this time, POC are standing with African Americans.

  11. “Walking While Black” and Some Teaching Resources for Addressing Racism
    “But one’s level of comfort with a topic is not an excuse to ignore it.” This quote by Dr. Childs in the article speaks volumes about disengagement in American society, including today’s current events. Just because those who are privileged don’t understand systemic racism or don’t feel comfortable talking about it does NOT mean that it is okay to be a silent bystander. We white Americans have a duty to educate ourselves and have those uncomfortable conversations. I see this most blatantly in the conversations about defunding the police. It seems radical to those that have never feared the police, but that is all the more reason to listen and discuss. I am still uncertain about this topic so I am reading more about the possibilities everyday. However, I am not ignoring the situation because that only benefits the oppressors.

  12. This article just adds more insight into how unjustly people of color are treated. Because of the biases and stereotypes that white people have towards people of color is crazy to wrap our minds around. A lot of these biases/stereotypes we don’t even realize we have, but we were introduced to them at a young age. By us having these biases and stereotypes we let them cloud our judgment. For example the white lady had seen a young black man getting into a car in a parking garage. Her biases and stereotypes led her straight to the conclusion that the man must breaking into and stealing things from cars, so she calls the police. When the police got there their biases and stereotypes took over as well. When they were questioning and yelling at the man they were doing so with the ideology that he was the culprit and that he was guilty. This story just shows how easy it is for people to jump to conclusion when they have clouded judgment.

  13. This article is mind opening, is hard to think about situations like this happening to white people. Something that struck me about the article was the part that says that the woman has done her “duty” of calling the police on someone “suspicious”, made me think if she had done the same if the person around the car was white, was she really doing her duty? Or was she acting of her own prejudices?
    This article just cements my idea that we as human beings, have a long way to go and a lot to learn before we can call ourselves non-racists. It’s time to address those uncomfortable conversations and do something about it.

  14. After reading Dr. Child’s article my first thought was “what if it had been a white male?”, I think we all know things would have unfolded most likely differently. The silencing of prejudice against the black community can no longer be silent. Discussion and change needs to happen, with the events that have happen due to George Floyd’s death, the world and nation can no longer be silent. As future teachers it is our job to start normalizing discussion in our classroom. Dr.Child’s has provided some great resources to help with these discussions. As a future teacher, I would love to see a classroom where discussion is happening and the acknowledgement of injustices is brought to light.

  15. After reading this, it was upsetting to hear Dr. Child’s say he has “had a break” from being racist encounters… but only because he has to stay at home due to COVID-19. I am a white male, top of the totem pole in the United States, I will never know how that feels. It makes me sick that innocent teenagers just trying to go home after working can be apprehended and detained because of their skin color. As Dr. Child’s also said, just because this topic makes people uncomfortable does not mean it can be ignored. This has been an ongoing issue for centuries and is not getting “better,” it will not be “better” until it is abolished. I read a quote that said “white silence is compliance” and I cannot agree more.

  16. This is a despicable story that too many black people can tell in too many ways. This time it was walking while black. Sometimes it’s driving while black. Often it’s just being black. We live in a system designed to oppress and dehumanize black people. I guarantee if this story had been about a white man no call would have been made, and even if it had, there would not have been the same level of suspicion and interrogation. Our system is so structurally violent towards black people that having dark skin can incriminate you. Anyone can be the judge, jury and executioner in your case and the only evidence they need is the fact that you’re black. This sounds extreme and unreal, but all you have to do is look at the world around you to see just how true it is. That’s why there are protests, that’s why we have the Black Lives Matter movement, and that’s why our system desperately needs to change.

  17. Hearing these stories over and over again this past month is so unfortunate. Though I will never understand, I continue to educate myself and help out with this ongoing problem. It initially takes me back to the United States government. We live in a democracy: by and for the people.” However, people we call ours are being discriminated against and stereotyped and it is so wrong. I could not imagine having to be worried every time I walk out in public or knowing I am more likely to be stopped by the police because I am black. It is so utterly wrong. Many white people sterotype blacks as “scary” and “harmful.” I could not imagine being a black person and having to deal with those comments everyday. It is definitely not fair. We all deserve this equal life that we make for ourselves. Dr. Childs does an excellent job here stating his horrible experience. The videos on PBS were also very educational and would be good resources in a classroom.

  18. This is a simple yet powerful article describing the everyday situations that a black man can experience. I love how relevant this article is and how powerful this everyday occurrence is. I can’t imagine having to worry about always being a target in the eyes of police, community and the country. Makes me wonder what the situation would look like if roles were reversed, or if the walker was white? would the same level of security be displayed? We may never know the answer to those questions but I do know that what happened was completely unacceptable. Luckily, a change is started to emerge within our country today and we couldn’t need it more than right now.

  19. As a young white woman, I felt like this article was really important for me to read. It gave me a better insight to something I don’t have to deal with and gives me a better understanding into what my future students do deal with. The teaching resources are really helpful to me because problems like this need to be addressed we can no longer ignore them.

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