Perhaps the greatest of the many privileges of being white in America is how we feel about the police. As a white child growing up I was taught to respect the police, but not fear them. If I was lost, I was to look for someone in uniform to help me. Although not necessarily “taught”, I also knew that I had rights, and so long as I was respectful, I could ask questions and expect answers in any involvement with the police.
Not so for some of my black friends. One friend told me: “I was taught to respect, but that respect better look a lot like fear. And if I was lost, I was to look for an older black woman for help.”
Another white privilege is that whites can have this discussion in theory rather than living it every day. But this is not (or should not be) true for white transracial adoptive parents who adopt black children.
Alex Landau, a black man adopted and raised by white parents, was taught that skin color didn’t matter. But when Alex, a 19-year-old college student, was pulled over by the Denver police for an illegal left turn, “he lost his belief in a color-blind world — and almost lost his life.”
Alex: We never talked about race growing up.
Pasty (Alex’s mom): I thought that love would conquer all and that skin color didn’t matter.
Alex had never had a negative experience with police before and as the police officers were starting to search the car, he made the mistake of asking if they had a warrant. Things went downhill fast from there. He was beaten, threatened with a gun, and regained consciousness when he heard an officer say: “Where’s that warrant now, you F__ing N__ger”. It took 45 stitches to close the wounds on his face.
In hindsight, Alex says the hardest part of the whole ordeal was seeing his mother’s face when she saw him at the hospital. “It wasn’t my injuries that hurt,” he tells her. “It was just seeing how it devastated you.”
Patsy: My whole world view changed that night.
Alex: For me it was a point of awakening on how the rest of the world is going to look at you. I was just another black face on the street, and I was almost another dead black male.
Transracial adoptive parents (and their children) don’t have the luxury of believing in a color-blind world.
In 2011, Alex was awarded a $795,000 settlement by the City of Denver. Two of the police officers involved have since been fired for uses of excessive force not related to this incident.
Other Creating a Family Resources
- Transracial Adoption-What’s Wrong With Being Color Blind?
- Young Adult Transracial Adoptees Talk about Adoption
- How Transracial Adoptees Navigate Race as They Age
Our thanks to NPR's Code Switch and Story Corps for this story. If you aren't already a fan, you should be. Image credit: NPR Story Corps "After A Traffic Stop, Teen Was 'Almost Another Dead Black Male'"