- Posted August 10, 2013 by
Brooklyn, New York
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Everyday racism: Your stories
Retail Racism and Police Profiling
This story is part of CNN iReport’s Everyday Racism project, an effort to shine light on and spark discussion about racism in today’s world. Please note that CNN cannot independently verify the events described in this post and the statistics cited in this iReport have not been confirmed.
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- Jamescia, CNN iReport producer
There is a phenomena that occurs a lot amongst people of color, comedian Paul Mooney gave it a name... its called a "N-word Wake Up Call" (N.W.U.C. for short) essentially, it is an instance where the colored person temporarily forgets that they are a person subject to racism and is reminded (“Woken Up” if you will) in a not so subtle way that they are still subject to racism and stereotypes (e.g. Oprah told she could not afford the expensive handbag as she travelled abroad).
I have experienced an NWUC a number of times. You never forget the first time though. For me it came when I was 17yo in a upscale clothing store. I am Hispanic and of a darker complexion than the rest of my family. I walked into the store with them and we spent several minutes shopping. I was the first to purchase something and so I stood by the entrance holding my bag with the store logo on the front of it in one hand, and my receipt for the items I had just purchased in the other; As I waited by the door for my lighter skinned relatives to finish buying their items a security person came up to me and said “Hey, what are you doing here?”
At first I thought perhaps I may have heard incorrectly or that they were not talking to me, so I replied with “Huh?” to which they replied “Are you def? I said, ‘What are you doing here?’” Before I could muster any sort of response they immediately cut me off saying “You look like you are taking up space… move it! Let’s go out!!!” I walked out of the store well ahead of my family who did not notice what had happened. When it sunk in what I had just been a victim of I was filled with both rage and sadness. I told my relatives what they had done when they walked out of the store. They immediately stormed back in on my behalf and the manager came out and apologized, but the damage was done and I have yet to buy another item from that store's brand.
Another traumatic NWUC came from the NYPD when I was in my early 20’s. I was walking down the street talking on my cell phone. I was attempting to guide my Driver’s Ed instructor to my house when a white police officer who looked younger than me ordered me to get off the call. I complied; I was raised with a deep respect for the law and law enforcement. The police officer then asked for my ID and again I complied, but as he looked at it he began asking me questions that didn’t seem right to me such as “How many times have you been arrested?” not “Have you ever been arrested?” basically presuming that I must have had a criminal background. I asked the officer why he was stopping me and he said “Because you were walking around and talking on your cell phone.” He also stated that he did not believe me that I had never been arrested (even though he had no reason to not believe me as I had not lied to him about anything).
As I responded to his offensive questions two more white cops surrounded me and began to ask me the same questions, but when I attempted to respond to each of them (needing to repeat the same answers) the others would get angry and imply that I was ignoring their inquiries. This ordeal culminated in me being made to lie on the wet ground and be searched repeatedly to the delight of the officers. At this point I was filled with outrage, but I did not resist I calmly waited with my face to the sidewalk until I was pulled to my feet by the bigger of the officers. The trio then strolled calmly away after throwing my wallet and ID back to me with the swagger of a group of school-yard bullies with badges. I muttered under my breath as they walked away “I thought this was a free country.” To which one of the officers yell back over his shoulder “HEY, IF IT WAS FREE THERE WOULD BE NO LAWS.” This person who was charged with enforcing the law was not only racist, but believed that because we did not live in anarchy we were not free and therefore he had the right to do as he pleased as it pertains to justice or injustice as it were. This filled me with a deep sadness and resentment as most NWUC’s so often do.
The fact is that racism and presumptions about the innate barbarism and/or criminal compulsions of an individual’s race perpetuate a bigotry that is: unjust, unfounded, and un-American. We have to get beyond these trivialities before we can ever claim the title of a truly just society. Until that time people of color should not indulge in any false sense of inclusion with a society that will so willfully abandon acceptance of them whenever its ethics as it pertains to race and racial misconceptions are tested. To those of you who have been the victims of a NWUP: I feel your pain and I hope that one day we our children will never fully understand the term. As for myself I won’t let my experience with a few bad apples spoil my view of the NYPD, but I definitely will never wear any clothing from that brand anytime soon, that is for sure.