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On Racial Profiling, Stereotypes & Self-Preservation

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On Racial Profiling, Stereotypes & Self-Preservation

Sometimes I get emotional thinking about where my husband could’ve ended up…where he could still end up.

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We once lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Not many people know of it, but it was a place where I stayed up late nights to be sure my husband came home.

We lived in a town where Black men were forced to live in the streets…many homeless and jobless.  They were a constant “problem” for the city…a constant outlet for local spite and antagonism (much like the Native population here in Sioux Falls, SD).

The police officers would often frequent the bus station to harass “vagrants” and once were even caught on film brutalizing a special needs teen who they arrested for quote, “spitting on the ground”.

This wasn’t a first for Kalamazoo and I’m sure it isn’t their last.  It’s just one of the incidents we watched unfold while living there.

Each night I waited up for my husband to return home from work.  I never felt safe with him on the roads.  I never felt that I could rest easy knowing that he was a good man and that nothing could happen to him.

You can’t take these things for granted.  You can’t be sure that your husband won’t be profiled…that one officer’s mistake won’t put him in jeopardy.

Even in cities that can seem safe, you never really know.  You never know who is lurking.  Who might see him as an easy target or mistake him for another brown man.  They all look alike you know.

This wasn’t the first time.

I remember in Muskegon, my husband was pulled over for ‘looking Mexican’.

“Get out of the car,” the officer instructed, and he asked him to spread his legs and submit to a search.  He put his hand on his holster as if to say, ‘Cooperate, or else you’ll have trouble’.

The officer ran my husband’s license and ignored my pleas for an explanation.  He didn’t explain why my husband was cuffed and sitting in the back of his car while scanning his license.

When he came back to the car with my husband…an innocent man…I asked him why we were stopped.

“Your tail light’s out.  Get it fixed or next time I’ll have to ticket you for it.”

“And why was my husband searched?  Why did you run his license?”  I asked him.

“Ma’am,” he adds, as if there’s no need for me to question him, “He fits the description of some people we’re looking for.  There are a couple of Mexicans causing trouble in this area and we have to check everyone.”

Hmmm…everyone?  I wonder.  And how he could see “Mexicans” in the middle of the night, I have no idea…but I guess they have a radar for brown.  Keep in mind, my husband wasn’t even the one driving…I was.

I’m just glad nothing crazy happened…but is that enough?  Sometimes I don’t know.  Sometimes I don’t know what we’re all supposed to do about these stories.

Being complacent means you’ve made it through another day…but it also means that you didn’t fight for your right.  But then, how can you fight in a society that withholds power?  A society where those in authority most often look nothing like you and don’t see you through the same lens as one of their own.

I wonder about this a lot.  How much do you fight and how much do you just worry about surviving?

I want my husband to be a fighter, but can I really expect this of him?  For him it’s an uphill battle…a constant battle.  For him it means heavy consequences and social shaming.  It means being called out for playing the “race card”.  It can severely disadvantage him at work.  It can provoke hostility and police brutality.

I’m glad he does speak out, but he chooses his battles carefully because there is no guarantee of the outcome.  This is what it is to be a brown man in the world.  Too many times, you have to make a choice between your dignity and your peace of mind.

Yes, you can speak out…but will it limit your safety?  Your success?  Will it put your future in jeopardy?

These are questions that my husband should never have to ask himself.  They are questions that nobody should have to ask.  And they are questions that wives shouldn’t have to worry themselves to sleep with.

Will my husband be profiled / stereotyped / passed over, because he’s brown?

Will he make it home safe tonight?

Will he be harassed or have his dignity put aside for the convenience of others?

Will they look at him and see nothing more than another “Mexican”?

I wonder…

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  • Nita
    July 25, 2012 at 4:17 am

    Love the photo!
    Your post touches on one of the hardest parts of being a mixed racial family. No matter what that mix is where ever you live there is going to be some racial profiling or stereotyping to some degree, that unfortunately is human nature. Personally I found that I worried less about profiling living in Sioux Falls than I did living in small towns or even than living in Southern California. The reason is actually pretty simple in small towns that were predominantly fair skinned Anglo American's people were more cautious of dark skinned individuals if only because they were 'different'. I will admit that one of the towns being Mexican automatically resulted in being shunned but the others it was more that we had not lived our entire life there so people were cautious and they did eventually accept us. Living in Riverside County California where it is predominately Hispanic was actually harder because although I am half Mexican at that time I was lighter skinned and my husband and all but one of our children are fair skinned. So the profiling was reversed and we were looked down on and passed over because people didn't believe we were Mexican. So basically what I learned was that living in a city or town that is ethnically diverse with good amounts of many different races people are more accepting of each other. I think often our own fears of being racially profiled actually lead us to racially profile others and thus worry more than need be. I hope that you have found a place where you can feel safe and make a home for your family.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      July 25, 2012 at 8:50 am

      Thanks for the comment Nita! Here in Sioux Falls, it's surprisingly safe…for most individuals. We have lived here for 3 years and my husband has NEVER been pulled over. That's pretty amazing. I feel much safer here, but that feeling never goes away completely. In Kalamazoo, it was horrible.

      Many times, I feel like it's better here because the diverse population is still small and the majority doesn't see it as a threat. We've lived in a lot of diverse cities and it's always been more hostile from our perspective.

      I would love to find a combination that works…a place where people are both diverse and open to diversity. I felt this a bit when I was in Miami for Hispanicize…although you never know for sure until you live there…but it seemed more relaxed and very mixed.

      I definitely hear you on not being accepted in the Mexican community too. Overall, I think it is just a matter of people taking the time to get to know you and appreciating the differences…but that sure comes a lot quicker from bicultural/multicultural families…they are already used to mixed races/cultures at home. ;)

  • Tallulah
    July 26, 2012 at 4:15 am

    Great post and so good to hear you've found a place to live where you do feel safe now, that is so important. It is something I really think about when looking at areas to live, although I tend to focus my worry more on the kids… will they be recruited into gangs, will they be safe from harassment, etc. Where we live now feels good and safe :-)

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      July 26, 2012 at 8:01 am

      Thanks so much Tallulah. I'm so glad to be where we are because it is safe and economically successful, but I do miss the diversity of our old neighborhoods. I miss our friends and family too…but relocating wasn't an option at the time. The economy was just too awful in Michigan.

      I'm so glad that you've found a safe place too…especially for you little ones! That is definitely super important and something I've had on my mind a lot lately because we're thinking about relocating again soon and I want to be sure to pick a location that provides her lots of diversity and a safe stable environment. We're really interested in Chicago, but I still have to do my research on economy, safety and other factors before we decide. ;)

  • Bicultural Mama
    July 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    That’s terrible that your husband was harassed because of his looks and that’s it. Yeah, MI is not exactly diverse in most places. So you’re in SD now, not MI?

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      July 26, 2012 at 8:08 am

      Maria, that's one of the things I never liked about living there, but after a while, it's like you just get used to it and don't realize that it might be better elsewhere. Living here in South Dakota, there is still a lot of racism, but it's directed differently. I think people are more open about it, but less hostile. White folks say the "N" word (and other slurs) out in the open, but they don't really follow you around and harass you as much…so it's a trade-off I guess? *sigh*

      Yeah, we've been in Sioux Falls for about 3 years and we mostly like it except the fact that it feels very isolating between the lack of diversity and missing our families. We're thinking about places close to Michigan that we could relocate to in the future, but we're not ready to go back to Michigan yet.

  • Vanessa, DeSuMama
    August 4, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    D faces similar issues, as you can imagine. But, as a Latina on the West coast, I've never really battled anything too severe. Not to make light {because you know how I feel on this topic}, but you should move West… Vegas is a great option :)

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      August 4, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      Haha! You're cute! Trust me, we've been thinking about it! ;) We're talking about relocation and it would either be Texas, Chicago, Cali, Washington state or somewhere in there.

      Hugs to your hubby…that stuff is rough. ♥

  • Daisy
    August 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    I really connected with your story, Chantilly. Not that I have something similar to relate to but only just a few weeks ago did I experience the feeling of discrimination – it most definitely hits you like a ton of bricks. This happened in California, I was shocked to see this sort of thing in such a high latino presence.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      August 11, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Thanks Daisy. I appreciate your comment. It's a very deep subject and I have a hard time explaining it to people, because many don't really understand how prevalent racial profiling and discrimination really is. I'm so glad that we don't live in the area that we used to, because it was a very scary experience, but I think you definitely have to be cautious no matter where you go and that's sad.

      I'm sorry to hear that you have been through this too. Thank you for sharing some with us on here.