Have you ever watched a situation unfold and realized that it’s something that would never happen to you? Or could happen to you? What’s your Realm of Possibilities?
For example- at my gym, there was a laser tag night. I joked that one of the coaches has probably been kicked out of laser tag before for being too rowdy. He laughed and said that wasn’t outside of the realm of possibilities.
Example two- I see a couple unloading three children from a van. One is screaming, one is pestering the screaming one, and the other is drawing on the side of the van with a marker. That situation is so far outside my realm of possibilities that it will literally never occur in my lifetime.
Example three- It’s 11:30 pm and you and your friends decide you want to go to Taco Bell. Everyone hops in the car, windows down, music up. Along the way, you change lanes without signaling. Suddenly, the police officer you just drove by (not speeding) dives behind you and pulls you over. He wants you and your friends to get out of the car for no specific reason. He calls for backup because you have no idea what you did wrong and you’re questioning his authority because of it. Things escalate, and you and your friends end up drug out of the car on the ground in handcuffs because you didn’t think you were doing anything wrong and didn’t comply with an officer acting as if you did. Oh yeah- I forgot to mention- You and your friends are black.
How far outside of your realm of possibilities is that third one? I’m going to go ahead and assume that most of my readers are white, and therefore, that situation is 100% outside of your realm. All the way. Just like me and a heard of children in a van. You will never be stopped and questioned by police because you “look suspicious.”
When things are outside your realm of possibilities, you tend to ignore them- especially if they’re unpleasant. I’m white and was raised in a middle-to-upper-class suburb by two parents. It’s easy for someone like me to deny that racial profiling by police even exists because it’s something that is so far outside of where I exist.
I can ignore it.
Last night, Black Lives Matter protesters shut down the “M” bridge in Memphis. If you’re unfamiliar with the Memphis landscape, that’s one of the two major arteries across the Mississippi River in to Arkansas from the city. As a cyclist, I can tell you, people feel ownership to roads. When you slow their forward progress by even a handful of seconds, they lose their shit. My social media feed was full of white people screaming about how that’s not the answer. It was also full of white people saying they’d like to take bulldozers, guns, grenades, etc. to the protesters.
Suddenly, the plight of Black People became something they couldn’t ignore. It was suddenly within their realm of possibilities that the profiling of a race could effect their lives in some way, shape, or form, and there was nothing that they could do about it.
And, that’s where I’m going with this. A lot of people ask, “what good is it doing to shut down an interstate?” That’s what it’s doing- it’s making the lifetimes of anger and frustration caused by racial profiling everyone’s un-ignorable problem. It’s bringing attention to someone else’s realm of possibilities. For most people reading this, being profiled by a police officer because of your race is far outside of your realm of possibilities. So, you don’t pay much attention to it. It doesn’t matter to you. You may have even decided that racial profiling doesn’t exist because you don’t do it yourself. Being stopped/questioned by a police officer because you’re “black and in the wrong place” or, in more politically correct terminology, “looking suspicious” is something that has not and will never happen to you.
People wouldn’t be shutting down interstates if a problem didn’t exist. I don’t have a solution, but I know that empathy and admitting that the problem exists makes a hell of a first step. I still claim Memphis as my home town, and I’m proud of Memphis for a peaceful protest on both the protester and the police side.