“If you see something, do something”

Cory Doctorow is right:

But “doesn’t look right” is culturally determined and informed by our conscious and subconscious biases. For people unaccustomed to mixed-race families, “doesn’t look right” means calling the police down on the innocent children and grandparents in your neighborhood. At its core, “see something, say something” isn’t about a war on crime, it’s a war on surprises, whose core premise is to mistrust and fear things you can’t understand.

The story that inspired him to say so is this:

Scott Henson, “a former journalist turned opposition researcher/political consultant, public policy researcher and blogger,” recounts how he was repeatedly stopped and eventually cuffed and detained while walking his granddaughter home through a park in Austin, TX. Henson is white and his granddaughter is black, and the police said that they were responding to a “kidnapping” call. But their response terrified the little girl and humiliated her grandfather. And it’s not the first time it’s happened to them.

(Thanks, Mr Jender!)

6 thoughts on ““If you see something, do something”

  1. My husband took our mixed-race daughter to the local ice rink at age three and she had a meltdown when they had to leave the park. She was screaming and kicking and then, incredibly, started yelling “help”, “help” as he carried her away. On the way out they were followed by a man who pretended to strike up a casual conversation but who was obviously trying to inquire into their relationship. I have talked to adoptive parents whose worst nightmare is being apprehended under similar conditions. At least my husband would only have had to remove our daughter’s hat to prove paternity – their ears are exactly alike.

  2. Great post and article. K’s story is complicated. I guess I think that, regardless of race, if we see someone carrying a kid who is yelling “help!” away from a kid-filled crowded place where it is easy for parents to momentarily lose sight of their children, I think we have a duty to at least sniff around and ‘strike up a conversation’, which seems to me just the right approach – much better than ignoring or calling the police. It is impossible to know what role racial expectations played here. I do understand how upsetting the incident must have been for your husband but I guess I see no clear wrongdoing here.

    When I was 6 I did terribly on a math test or something and started crying in school and saying how my parents were going to “beat me” for it when I got home. This was totally absurd and I have no idea why I said it. I guess maybe I was embarrassed that I was crying in public and cast about for some plausible excuse. Anyhow my parents got called in and there was much sniffing around, all of which was humiliating for all concerned. But I can’t blame the school for responding. Little kids do silly things like scream ‘help’ at just the wrong moment, but adults have to be responsible about figuring out what is up.

  3. And I was just saying to my Japanese yamuna teacher how much I love living in a minority white city and teaching at a minority white university. A mixed race child with either parent is no surprise.

    I am very inclined to agree with Rebecca. I am assuming that, like the Austin case, the father is white.

  4. Yes. This. Those cops messed up.

    I had a neighbour many years ago when my daughter was little, a British man of Sri Lankan ancestry. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the way he and his family cared for Kyla. Yes, I admit it. I don’t trust men with children. And if the man in question is from a country where horrible things are happening to women and children, yes I’m even more alarmed by the suspected creepy guy.

    But I met his extended family, and they were wonderful. Right out of Bend It Like Beckham. I decided it was ok for her to visit with them once in awhile. She was a toddler and I was exhausted all the time at age 22. I really needed the break, and Kyla seemed to be happier when she came back from Kumar’s.

    Well, sure enough Kumar had trouble with a subway guard after about the 4th visit with K, because he wasn’t able to get her home by naptime. She was screaming, and it was just a little before her 3rd birthday. She always did that when she was sleepy. She’d throw herself down on the carpet and kick and flail, quite literally turning somersaults. When she was old enough to run, she ran through the house like Taz the Tasmanian Devil, shrieking. She looked like little Shirley Temple, only a scary movie version of her. Shirley Temple From Hell. She still gets cranky and foul-mouthed at about 4pm every day. Don’t even talk to the girl after a long shift at the factory. She’ll make you feel 2″ high.

    So here’s this poor man trying to contain this blonde, red-faced little child who’s shrieking and squirming like a greased pig. Sure enough, TTC security stopped him to ask him what was wrong with her. They phoned me, I explained her behaviour, and that was that. It probably helped that Kumar had a decent job. He had a degree in poli sci from a good British university and one in history from a good German university, so legal clerk was a little beneath him, but they may have been a whole lot meaner to him if he was a parking attendant or something. The James Bond accent probably helped, too.

    No police were called and nobody was cuffed or tossed in a squad car. My word was good enough for them. Actually, my challenge to the security guard, daring him to escort little Shirley From Hell the 2 blocks to my apartment was good enough. Just another anecdote to laugh over.

    I don’t know what was wrong with those Texas cops. If a child says “he’s my grandpa”, he’s her grandpa already.

  5. Anne – dad was a big scary Pakistani man, daughter more watered down colour-wise due to white mom. We thought the incident at the park was hilarious – not upsetting but indicative our our daughter’s cunning ability to use exactly the right psychological coercion to get her way. But I’m sure the joke wears a bit thin for people who encounter suspicion all the time when their kids throw a tantrum (which they invariably do).

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