You’re a black man walking down a street with a friend. A cop car pulls up and two cops get out and spread-eagle you and your friend up against the car or a wall. They rough you up while they search you. You ask why have they stopped you and they say they don’t need to tell you.
[There are moves toward having police wear bodycams that record exactly what happens but you can learn to be threatening in more subtle ways than the transparent ways we once had].
Okay you don’t look like you’re a doctor but you are in your early 50s so you’re not likely to be up to much that the cops would be interested in.
Worse still, a few weeks later two cops call to your house by mistake. Spread-eagle you on the floor. When you ask what is going on, they say White Privilege. We can do this to any black fucker we want to.
Leaves you feeling homicidal. This is a problem for you because you do have a background. Where you came from insults like this get sorted out and its not by due process.
Maybe because you know you have retaliated in the past, in lets say a manly way, you are now worried. Homicidal thoughts are no good.
You go along to the ER where a doc assesses you. He’s not white which may play a part in his difficulty. He doesn’t think you’re mad. No voices, no delusions, no craziness. He offers you some Seroquel which gets dished out by the bucket load in prison.
You get bounced to a shrink.
Just your luck, you meet a crazy shrink. The dude listens and says hey you’re not crazy. Homicidal thoughts in a situation like this are not a crime and not a sign of insanity.
Said he’d felt this way often about the management in his hospital. Usen’t to be like this but was getting more like this every day in schools and universities and healthcare and he figured loads more people were getting to know what it was like to feel homicidal. Better to know what it was like to have homicidal thoughts before he died than not, he said. Silver lining to the cloud.
And with all that black lives stuff going on, he said, you’ve got to deal not only with what happened but also with constant reminders of it.
Black Lives crap you say. They march up and down. They preach. But they ain’t getting anywhere are they?
No he agrees.
Then out comes the ultimate crazy.
What he says if you were to go down to the cop-shop and go in and say to the guy behind the counter in the lightest way you can with a gentle, open kind of smile –
‘Hey man, this is going to sound crazy but I’m doing it on my doctor’s instructions. He said the next time I have the homicidal thoughts to come down to you guys and tell you. They started happening after two episodes a while back and come in waves. He said I should just mention them to you and then walk back home again and I’d feel much better. So I’ve done it and I’ll head home now and see if he’s right’.
Crazy man. He did say, though, check it through with some friends before doing anything.
He also said he’d give me a letter on University headed notepaper with my name on it and his signature at the end of it saying that he had indeed said just this. I was welcome to show it to the cops if they looked like they weren’t pleased at the idea of switching jobs from cops to therapists.
There’s some White Privilege thinking.
Hey dude even if nothing went wrong, they’d put a note in my record saying black dude turned up saying he was homicidal. Next time the guys jump on me in street they’d see it there in my record. I might be shot in self-defence before any questions are asked.
They almost certainly wouldn’t let me walk out. They’d call the Regional Assertive Community Team specially put in place for homicidal people who would have no option but to lock me up in hospital for observation.
That didn’t stop him – you’d have my letter with my phone number on it. They’d have to call him, he said.
He keeps telling his friends who are also homicidal about the management, he said, never let them refer you to occupational health. Occie health are not going to say its managements fault – they will locate the problem in you, give you pills, sign you off work. That will be the end of you. No-one will pay any heed to you again ever. You might as well kill yourself – hey the pills might even prompt you to do just this.
What, he said, if you got away with it – you have a friend with you and we have a camera crew, well maybe just one guy with a phone, to record what you are doing and you do get back out the door in one piece and can record what happened? This could go viral. Think of it – every cop-station in America might be ‘visited’. They might become therapy centres.
You tell him he’s been very helpful and has given you a lot to think about and now you have to go get some messages for your daughter.
Handy thing about Covid. It all happens on the phone. If it was in his office, it could be more difficult to get away.
So what do you do? Take him up on his offer? Is there a way to do this without coming out of the cop-shop feet first?
Maybe tell the cops there’s this crazy doc trying to kill you and can they do anything about him. He said he had homicidal thoughts about the managers of his hospital. Why didn’t he go down to the cop-shop to relieve his thoughts or into the management office?
McMaster University like many other institutions in Canada and elsewhere has been responding to the Black Lives Matter movement and looking to get to grips with racism.
In the course of my University work in the last year, I have met and had conversations with many amazing people. Among them, three black men were unforgettable. One had Barack Obama levels of reasonableness and generosity of spirit and a deep calmness in the face of extraordinary difficulties.
A second was the one I felt I could most identify with – very human.
The third was maybe the healthiest. Talking to him was like arm-wrestling, with him grinning because he figured there was no way he could lose. He would not concede the Irish experience at the hands of the English was remotely like the Black experience. Nor that black women had it any harder or even as hard as black men.
All three have shaped this post which is not about any one person.
This blog gets some marvellous comments from people who have tuned into its quirks. It would be great if regular contributors could save any comments for next week. This post needs comments from people who have never been near here before. A follow up post will be open to all and will bring up similar issues.
The issues here lie at the heart of Shipwreck of the Singular which asks if being black is the worst thing that can happen someone.