Did you see when the color-coded maps of the large American cities were published a year or so ago? They were telling.
This was Detroit’s:
Look at those colors. Split distinctly, definitely along man-made lines.
Those colors represent racial differences.
Those colors also represent deep, deep divides and prejudices that reach back for generations. And I can’t talk about all of that today. But, I can tell you stories. A few stories, about transportation and education. Because stories like these need to be told and retold until we get tired of hearing them. And then we need to keep telling them. We need to tell them until people start talking about race differently and voting differently and treating neighbors and neighborhoods differently.
I live in a neighborhood made up of fair-skinned people…like me. And every work day I commute past and into the line that separates the fair-skinned from the dark-skinned.
You can pretend like that line doesn’t exist, but then I would just invite you to look at that map again. Look at it good and hard.
I have a car. It’s silver. Usually I drive to work, and it takes me around 30 minutes to drive and I listen to the radio and sing songs and boogie in my car.
But, sometimes, my car is in the shop, and then I take the bus.
The bus serves an important, important purpose for many people–especially the elderly or the very young or the disabled or those who have no car or those with no safety net or support system. But, it’s also super inconvenient and weird and sometimes dirty and uncomfortable.
Do you want to know something about the bus system? Look at that map again, that map with colors that represent people on either side of a man-made line. If a person from the light-skinned side wanted to ride a bus to and from the dark-skinned side…they could. But, it would only be for select hours every morning and evening. If I ever take the bus in and out of Detroit, I need to be out by 6:00 p.m…quite early, if you ask me. (No time to catch dinner with friends after work, even).
And if you start on the light-skinned side, the bus doesn’t stop on the dark-skinned side, no. Not even if a person on the dark-skinned side waves a cane or arm or anything. Not even if the bus is nearly empty. The bus systems say that this is for convenience and, after crossing into the dark-skinned side, it basically cruises all the way to the river. If memory serves there is a stop or two, but for the most part the bus only stops to let off those from the light-skinned side, when they pull the buzzer.
Say a person started on the dark-skinned side, in Detroit. The buses in Detroit, the ones that run all day and through parts of the night, those never cross into the light-skinned side. They’ll drop you off near the border, but they you need to walk to find a place to hop on a light-skinned side bus.
This is 2016, not 1956.
If a person from the dark-skinned side has, say, a job on the light-skinned side, good luck on the bus route. Good luck.
There are communities on the light-skinned side who do not ALLOW the buses to pick up or drop off in their cities. Because heaven forbid what the dark-skinned side would bring to their streets and towns. (I could offer you telling quotes here, ones that might shock you with the overt racism…but, nah. This is long enough. I think you get the point).
This is the reality I live in. This is the reality I drive through. This is the reality faced by EVERY person living on either side of that man-made racial line.
Is the discussion on racism still important, today?
Well, there are certain light-skinned communities who vote to keep OUT public transit that would connect them with the city. So I would say that racism still rears its ugly, ugly head. I would say that we still need to have these discussions.
This is an example of a system put in place that each of us, in our daily life, doesn’t really think about a whole lot. But, it’s still there. And it negatively impacts vulnerable people every day. Think about that.
And this is only ONE system. The transportation system. But there are a million systems like this system.
The list goes on and on.
I have another story for you.
One time I was in college, taking a class at the community college. My professor was a rather sour lady, rude to many people. She had a rule where she would lock the door as class started.
I remember one day, a classmate, with dark hair and skin and eyes, ran down the hallway panting. The classmate reached the door just as the professor did. The professor locked her out.
“Please!” the classmate cried, “I need this class!”
“You’re late,” the professor said, cruelly.
“The bus came late,” the woman said, “I couldn’t do anything.”
“Take the earlier bus,” the professor said coldly, and walked away.
Keep in mind that the buses can run 20+ minutes late. Easy.
Keep in mind that they can be spaced long distances apart.
I don’t know where the young woman was from. But, judging from her skin and that racial map, I would guess she was from Detroit. And that worked against her. It worked against her education and her future, and all she did wrong was be born in a place where the transportation system was broken to begin with.
“Please!” she cried, outside the door, “please!”
But I was sitting at my desk. I have a car. I live on the light-skinned side. It’s different for me.
There are a million things we could talk about today. A million situations faced by people on that dark-skinned side of the map. Public transportation is one of them. One little one that fans out until it reaches other ones.
For instance: every morning I wake up early to work out or run. I can’t do that, though, if I need to catch a bus. The bus takes too long. I wouldn’t have the time. Without a car, I wouldn’t be able to work out. That’s a simple self-care step that I often take for granted. So mass transit also affects: health.
A couple of times a week, I stop at a grocery store on my way home from work. The grocery store falls in the Detroit boundaries. If I took a bus out, I couldn’t stop there, because I can’t catch another bus that will take me to the light-skinned side from that area. So mass transit also impacts: nutrition.
We could go on and on. Do you see how this one issue impacts a million other ones?
And this is one issue. One. Because I happened to pick “mass transit” out of a hat. But in that same hat is the food desert of Detroit that means that, guys, it’s hard to buy food in Detroit. In that same hat is the educational system that the whole nation knows is broken. In that same hat are broken family structures and violent neighborhoods and so on and so forth.
And there are a million issues like this, and several hundred thousand people in the dark-skinned section of the city.
And there are other girls crying on the other side of a classroom door saying, “Please, please let me in. The bus came late. There’s nothing I can do.”
And suddenly she has “failed” a class. But, in reality, the system has failed her and the transit has failed her and so many other things as well.
When these injustices pile up and up and up against each other– on and on and on. And I can see how frustrating and hurtful it would get.
And maybe the girl on the locked-out side of the classroom, weighed down with things that are unfair, wonders if anyone thinks that the life she’s living is important. Because things are set up in a way that tell her that she’s not important. That she’s less. That she’s scary and unwanted.
For her, I would say, “Listen. Listen, you are important. You do matter. Your black life matters.”
For that reason, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter exists.
Separate out all of the silly political entanglements we’re shouting back and forth. And think about everyone who rode the bus today. Think about the girl locked out of class.
Her life matters.
So does mine, obviously, me from the all-white neighborhood. I’m not saying it doesn’t. But I have advantages, a huge host of advantages, because my pigment is light and prone to sunburn, and my family lives three and a half miles (three and a half miles) inside of the part of a map that means that I have access to: grocery stores. Streets that I can run in the morning. Places I can walk without being catcalled. Schools I can go to where I am safe and well-educated.
My life matters. Of course it does.
But, by golly, so does her’s, that girl on the other side of the classroom door. The fact that her life matters doesn’t make my life matter any less.
And, so: #BlackLivesMatter. I’ll say it. I will.
And I’ll vote to bring mass transit through my city. And I’ll shop and work and walk through the side of the city where the light-skinned are segregated away, via a host of decades-old injustices/ politics/ decisions. And I’ll make conversation and memories and friendships. Every little bit counts. This is worth fighting for.