I learned a lot growing up from those around me, my parents in particular. Plenty of good, plenty of bad. But I never had to learn How to Deal with the Police from my parents.
Life as a White Male is Pretty Cake
Growing up a white male in the 1980s in western Canada comes with a lot of certainty. I grew up watching my father work his ass off. Side by side, at my first job—an early boost in a lifetime of nepotism pointed indiscriminately in my favour—I saw hard work payoff at a one to one ratio at the very least. This absolute and direct relationship from input to output resulted in a work ethic that has festered over the years and drives much of my productive, and non-productive, energy to this day.
I learned the value of living within ones means from my parents. When times were tough, we jammed into an Aries K Car. In the good years, we returned a GMC Astro van because it didn’t come with cruise my father was expecting, and had negotiated. Instead we rolled the highways of Saskatchewan in a hot malbec red Ford Windstar. I’ve only seen my fathers “chef-sharp edge” a handful of times, but combined with my mothers “steel I-beam stubbornness”, I can make Selina Meyer’s vindictive disregard for humanity feel like a charming quality if you cross me. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’m working on it.
What my father never had to teach me, was How to Deal with the Police. Television took care of that lesson—passively. All white casts. Confederate flag adorned hot orange 1969 Dodge Chargers. Talking jet black 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am sports models. And great white saviour vigilante story lines letting a white male protagonist do as they please without repercussion by anyone, most especially the police, is all I needed to cement an unspoken privilege in my young mold-able mind.
Police Weren’t a Part of Growing Up
In fact, the ONLY time I have seen either one of my parents interact with police is when us kids in the back of the van were acting like privileged little shits to a police officer as we cruised past on the highway. During that traffic stop;
- At no point did my mother have to explain to the officer what she was doing prior to moving her hands.
- At no point was she handled in any way.
- At no point did her voice crack in fear.
- At no point was she drug from the vehicle, put in handcuffs, and arrested leaving us on the side of the road.
- At no point did she get tazed.
- At no point did she fear for her life.
She was treated with complete respect by the officer, despite us little shits in the back continuing to be little shits—thinking it was a fucking game.
Never has my mother or father had to calm me by saying “I’m okay, I’m alive.”
If my story sounds familiar, you should probably watch this video of Black parents explaining to their children; How to Deal with the Police.
I encourage white folks to reflect on how your experiences with your parents and the police, differ from theirs. Process the implications of why this conversation has to occur between Black parents and their children. Why this conversation didn’t have to happen between us and our parents in order for us to be safe—if we even get pulled over in our lifetimes.
It’s okay if this video upsets you. It’s okay if this video shocks or surprises you. It’s okay if this video angers you. It’s not okay if you ignore those feelings. It’s not okay if you don’t explore those emotions. It’s not okay anymore to sit back and do nothing. It never has been okay.
I’m Arial Sky Williams. I’m eight years old. I’m unarmed, and I have nothing that will hurt you.
Ariel Sky Williams
What Can We Do?
Watch the video with your parents. Discuss the difference of experience with them. Watch the video with your friends and ask them about their lived experience. Why didn’t we have this conversation with their parents? Why did we have such a different experience growing up with police? These conversations will be awkward. That’s the point.
If you feel like you don’t know what you can do. Right now. In this very moment. Watch and listen. Then listen some more. We don’t need to talk right now.
It’s not a solution, but it potentially helps everyone.