Being a black man in America is exhausting. Even though I’m a professional - HR Director, member of six boards, adjunct professor, and Social Pastor - I still experience racism regularly. Here are some recent lowlights:
December of 2019, I was followed by the police in Palos Verdes, CA. My wife and I went there to hike, and the weight of being followed by the police, plus the stares of other (white) hikers and bikers on the trail, was overwhelming. We left after only 15 minutes - we never got to walk by the beautiful Pacific Ocean, which was our intent that morning.
December of 2019, later on that same vacation trip, a Ritz-Carlton employee made a derogatory comment (based on a racist assumption about my ability to afford the hotel room) while I was checking into the hotel. She caught her statement in five seconds and offered to make it right by giving us an upgraded room. However, while I appreciated she recognized her assumption, it was hurtful, and it put a sour taste in my mouth that lasted a few days.
November of 2019, I received a retaliatory ticket from a CHP officer in Tulare county just outside of Porterville, CA. They had pulled over my sister-in-law for speeding, and we stopped a short distance ahead to wait and monitor the situation since it was dark. A second officer in the CHP vehicle came over and cited me for speeding as well, even though they hadn’t pulled me over. Not only did he cite me, but also, somehow I received a ticket going 9 mph faster than my sister-in-law, which from my understanding of physics, is impossible since I was following her! The spurious ticket felt like retaliation based on the comments the officer made when citing me.
June 3, 2020 - while standing with pastors and other community leaders at a prayer walk in Bakersfield, a car skidded by, and someone in the vehicle honked and yelled out “Blue Lives Matter!” followed by what sounded like expletives. The funny thing was that we were there to support law enforcement, but because a large contingent of the marchers were black, they assumed differently. It was hilariously confusing for everyone there!
June 4, 2020 - my wife and I had breakfast at a classic old restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga before flying to see family in Seattle. The staff was great, but the customers were mean. I felt their glares even before I looked at them as soon as we walked in and caught most of them glaring at us while we ate. They always averted their eyes when I looked up at them. When we got up to leave, I intentionally smiled and nodded at each table to ease the tension. None of the older white men smiled back at me, and the white women looked away too. One out of eleven people eating breakfast at this restaurant managed to give me a weak smile back. We left in a hurry.
August 2016 - I wrote a Facebook post decrying police brutality AND the killing of law enforcement officers that got over 100 shares and was published in The Bakersfield Californian. In the post/article, I attempted to stay balanced by sharing how I had people from every race and nation, from law enforcement and in prison, and from both sides of the political aisle, in my family. Still, after the post went viral, some members of my adopted family chose not to speak to me for over a year. No questions asked, just cut me off. It made me realize that my voice of “gentle protest” was not valued or appreciated.
This short list is not exhaustive of my experiences, nor does it include the numerous personal experiences I could share from my wife (a dean), my father (computer programmer and pastor), siblings (all educated and professional), grandfather (judge and WWII veteran), extended family, and friends in the local Black community.
I believe that there is a solution to fixing the problem of racism.
What local institutions can do:
Establish a Citizens Commission to work with local law enforcement agencies to ensure a commitment to protect and serve our community without unnecessary killings or injuries.
Establish ongoing conversations between law enforcement and the community to rebuild dialogue and trust.
Initiate these actions from a posture of love for the community. Reaching out to us in friendship will go a long way in making us feel like we belong and are valued in this community.
Many have expressed that they are looking for ways to get involved.
Here are a few ways you can help:
Stand up! Choose courage in your heart, and stand up for what you know is right and just.
Speak out! Share the truths of black equality and human rights with people in your circle. It doesn’t have to be on FB or IG at all. Dinner table conversations change more hearts than anything else. Also, of equal importance - if you see something, say something!! Don’t silently observe injustices. If you do, your silence is complicity.
Stay engaged! Sustain the effort. Usually there is a wave of activity when people become aware of a moral crisis. Sadly, the momentum often fades too quickly to achieve lasting change. Stay aware and up to date with what’s happening in your community in this space.
Finally, I end with what gives me hope, and it is from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights. Among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Join us in making that a reality for blacks in this nation and in this community!
Traco Matthews, Social Pastor
Bakersfield College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, 10 Commercial Blvd., Suite 204, Novato, CA 94949, (415) 506-0234, an institutional accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education. Additional information about accreditation, including the filing of complaints against member institutions, can be found at: www.accjc.org