On Febuary 14, 2014, a life was lost. A dad, a husband, a friend, and a man who just wanted to go out and watch a movie with his family. As police officers, maybe they did not intend on taking Luis Rodriguez’s life that night, but it sure was their actions that led to this unnecessary death. The questions at hand are: Why did it escalate? What did Luis do to deserve this treatment? Is it because he was a threat? What made him seem like a threat? These are all questions that I have asked myself, as my heart remains heavy for the family who is now missing the man of their lives. Luis is of Puerto-Rican descent, but passes much more for an African American male. Many people would disagree that there is not a significant race issue anymore, but I beg to differ. What if he would have been a white man? What if he would have been me; a blonde, white woman? If it had been me, the situation would not have escalated like it did. I would probably not have been approached, I would not have been restrained, and I sure as hell would not be dead.
You see, I am treated a certain way by the world. I have never been scrutinized when I walk into a mall, nor is it assumed that I will shoplift when I walk into a Dilliard’s. I have white privilege. I had no choice in having this white skin, but I am well aware of the benefits that come with it everyday of my life. I have the privilege of being seen as less of a threat in society as a whole. To be honest, I have only had good experiences with police officers. When I get pulled over, I get asked, “are you okay?” or “are you having a good day?” Then, I smile and flash this pale skin of mine and get a verbal warning. I do not see this as an advantage that I readily take advantage of. It actually puts me in an uncomfortable position, and it makes me angry of how unfair the justice system really is. Luis’s case, and many other police brutality cases such as Rodney King, Oscar Grant, and Pearl Pearson, affected me in a different way. It opened my eyes to my privilege and it also answered many questions that my own mother faced as I was growing up.
The thing is, I always considered myself a woman of color. My mother is half Hispanic and half Native American. My father is German, but Caucasian for the most part. Both of my parents, along with my two brothers, have dark hair, dark eyes, and brown skin. I, on the other hand, have white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. I guess you could say I stick out like a sore thumb. Growing up, I hated my outer exterior. I wanted brown skin and dark hair like my family. I wanted to not have to validate myself as a woman of color and constantly be asked if I was adopted. If my family members were not around, I was pinned to be a “rich white girl.” No one knew I was mixed, and very few people even believed me when I said I was. I was constantly explaining my culture and myself. My mother’s side of the family came from Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish. I grew up going to a Spanish-speaking church and I have known diversity my whole life. Going to college was almost like culture shock to me. So many white people had never surrounded me in my life, and it almost made me feel like I did not belong. Although I blended in just fine, I could not quite make connections.
With that being said, I have had a front row seat in watching racial discrimination occur through and through. Not only against my peers and friends, but also to my family. I can remember times where I blatantly overheard white people talking bad about Mexicans, because they figured it was safe to say it around me. I have watched my brother be given the short end of the stick and talked to as though he was inferior. As I watched this, I felt as though I was invisible. I felt like I had this force field around me, protecting me from discrimination due to my white skin. To this day, my mother still tells me about the story of her getting pulled over for simply not wearing a seatbelt. The police officer automatically asked her if she had drugs or needles on her, and when she expressed that she felt she was being racially profiled, she was put in a jail cell. The police officer was rude, called her a “wetback,” and took her straight to jail when she expressed her thoughts. She was completely clean and had no reason being in jail in the first place.
Although I feel that, as a society, we have come a long way concerning the “race issue,” there is still a large segment of society who have not gotten past it. Sadly, it still exists to a great extent. Many of my white counterparts are unaware of this because they are not the people who experience it. A common trend that displays this is police brutality. Cruel beatings and unnecessary deaths, such as Luis’, have resulted from victims being racially profiled and ultimately dead in a coffin for minor issues. Luis refused to give identification, and for that, he was killed. The abuse of power and stereotyping must come to a halt before this society can move forward. Once again, I am the “majority.” Regardless of how poor I grew up, or the fact that my parents are mixed, I am still viewed as a white person. I am not a threat and I do not fit the stereotypes of a person who would commit a crime. I am passionate toward this issue and my privilege because I feel that I get off the hook, while my colored friends and family get treated as though they are criminals. I am choosing not to turn the blind eye or search for a reason to validate that what the cops did to Luis Rodriguez was okay. I will not make excuses, because even though I am white on the exterior, Luis is my “people”; WAS my “people.”
Because of this, I would like to invite you to join the Making Herstory social media campaign on Saturday, April 12th, 2014 – what would-be Luis’ birthday. We ask that you upload a profile picture of yourself tomorrow, with the similar words written below:
“Today Luis Rodriguez would have celebrated his birthday. . . #endpolicebrutality”
Use this hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc; let’s get this trending! #endpolicebrutality