Spokane, Washington is perhaps the whitest community I have ever lived in.
I remember when I first moved here I was shocked by the contrast from Seattle, where I had just come from, and California, where I lived a year prior to that. You have to actually look around to find people of color in Spokane. They’re easy to spot, of course, but you need to look. As of 2015, statistics show that 88% of county residents are white and only 1.6% black, which is .3% more than the Native American population here. Spokane is about as white as it gets.
At the time, I told myself that it didn’t matter, that living in a nearly white community wasn’t a positive or negative thing. It was just how things were here. I was only 20, and didn’t give it another thought until the first friend I made here said something rude about me “talking black” when I’d answered the phone with, “‘Sup?” I spent most of my life in California, and that’s just how everyone talked there. I had never given thought to it being perceived as a racially-based thing because it isn’t. At worst, it is just bad slang.
I am a white woman, raised by white parents in a lower-middle-class military family.
The military draws all races, and with the substandard pay they offered in the 1970s and ’80s, military families found housing where it was affordable. This led us to various suburban and urban family neighborhoods in diverse cities and towns, where the American melting pot was ever-present. It wasn’t unusual for me. It seemed that this was how it was supposed to be. In Alaska, my school friends and neighbors were a cross-section of military transplants like me, and native kids born there.
In Pacifica, an upper-class suburb of San Francisco where we lived for a brief 5 months, my only girlfriend was Philippino. She lived right behind the school and her “Nanay“, as she called her grandma, made homemade lumpia for us for lunch. Every day, we would cross the schoolyard to the gate leading to her house. I wouldn’t have missed that lumpia for anything. No one told me that my brown friend was different than me or less than me. She was just my friend. I don’t recall her name now, but I remember her kindness toward me, the new girl in school.
In West Pittsburg, CA, we lived in perhaps the worst neighborhood in town. It was a rundown little community of tightly-packed residential streets which all led to the main road, where the middle school I attended was. There was a small grocery store where my friends and I would haul a wagon load of glass pop bottles to turn in for the recycle money and then spend it all on candy. Kids there did this all summer long. My little sister and her best friend, a boy named DeLeon, would race laps around us, through the parking lot and back around the wagon, being as annoying as they could until we had the candy in hand. Then, they would be sweet, giggly second graders, promising to be nice if we shared. DeLeon was devoted to Cindy and where ever he was, she was. When she was killed by a drunk driver the following year, she was buried with a photo of him. No one could tell us that my blond-haired, blue-eyed sister shouldn’t be friends with an African-American boy. It’s just how it was for us. Sadly, it isn’t how things are for everyone, everywhere.
Less than a week ago, George Floyd was cruelly held down by a knee to the neck and killed by a police officer.
This officer clearly did not care about what he was doing. Some have pointed out about George that, “he was a criminal,” and yes, that part may be true. But he was also a human being. He was a human whose right to LIFE was as strong and viable as anyone. He was first a human being, second, a person with a family and friends who loved him, and third, he just happened to be a black man. Lastly, he broke the law. That does not justify, nor WILL IT EVER JUSTIFY the actions of an officer of the law to brutally murder him while other officers stood by and allowed it to happen. No one intervened. Officer Chauvin didn’t even let up when George became unconscious. He only released the pressure on his neck when the EMT told him to, over 8 minutes into the arrest.
A peaceful rally was held at the downtown park here for George Floyd.
It ended around 5 pm as another group came in and started to cause trouble. That night my city, lily-white Spokane, erupted into riots. I just can’t bridge the gap between the two. George Floyd’s murder SHOULD incite anger and protests. This is but one in an ongoing list of injustices committed against African-American people. But a group of opportunistic young people breaking windows and looting local businesses, and the Nike store? Really?? Looting stores doesn’t change anything. Looting just causes the police to don riot gear and put a stop to it and leaves the community business owners to clean it up. It doesn’t help! The rioting was so bad that a friend of mine, who works downtown in a local tattoo shop, posted this photo of where he works. They were boarding up the inside windows, just in case the crowds that were gathered outside decided to hit there, too.
If you had asked me about my thoughts on race a year ago, I would have told you, like many others, that “I don’t see color.”
I know now that statement isn’t accurate. Of course, I see color. I think of the more diverse cities I’ve lived, like Seattle and San Francisco, and see the melting pot of nationalities that this country was originally founded to be made up of and I think it is beautiful. What I don’t see is a difference in humanity between people of one race over another. I don’t understand the feeling of superiority that some police officers, particularly white police officers, seem to have. They behave as if they are untouchable.
How would things have played out if George Floyd was a white man?
Would they have approached him the same? Would he have been pulled back out of the police car and pushed down onto the pavement? Would Officer Chauvin have continued to apply pressure? Would the others have goaded him, telling him “Get up and get in the car then,” knowing full well there was no way that he could because they were all on top of him? I don’t think it would have happened the same way at all. The race gap is wide.
I don’t have answers and I don’t even really know the right questions to ask.
All that I know is that this needs to end. All four officers need to be charged, and Derek Chauvin needs to be charged with 2nd, not 3rd-degree murder. 3rd degree is involuntary, but what he did was intentional.
Color is beautiful. People are capable of much good in the world. We need to emphasize this with our kids and our peers and live it out in our daily lives. Nothing will change until everything does.