Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Black History Month Series: Observations

By Angela Carroll

This is the first in a series of submissions for February’s Black History Month concerning the issues of race here and beyond this valley. Since race continues to be a major issue in the Gunnison Valley, the U.S. and globally in 2020, I am addressing the need for heightening awareness, understanding and change.

Last February I was driving from Crested Butte to Gunnison with a visiting African artist to host an event for Black History Month at the library. We were pulled over by a state trooper at Riverland. It was late afternoon and snowing, and unbeknownst to me I had a taillight out.

At first it seemed routine, until he returned from running my license and insurance and asked my passenger for his identification. I responded with asking why he would possibly need to know anything about my passenger, and he said to me that he just wanted to be sure I was safe. I recognized the state trooper’s concern arose simply due to the skin color of my passenger. When questioned, the officer stumbled and tried to claim there was a restraining order attached to my name and that he needed to be sure it was not my passenger. This was complete untrue nonsense.

Even my five-year-old in the back knew it and was questioning everything about the situation. Perhaps the officer profiled that a white woman driving with a black man was not “normal” and thus might really be in an unsafe situation. Or maybe the trooper wanted to be sure he wasn’t missing the opportunity for busting an illegal immigrant or criminal, because stereotypically, dark skin and dreadlocks can’t be trusted.

With no reason to detain either of us, we were free to go. I then had to call the library and say the guest of honor, who completed his MFA from CU and is a world-renowned artist and educator, would be late because we got delayed with him being racially profiled.

This experience highlighted how, even in our small valley, your race can lead to wrong and unfair treatment and is a true reality that people of color continuously face.

To clarify, I am thankful and supportive of law enforcement officers and their duty to serve and protect. This small encounter is just another example to remind us that as a nation we still have a long way to go when it comes to racial equality.

We come into 2020 with amplified sensitivity and a racially charged atmosphere. The Crested Butte News has agreed to run a short article each week with the hope of providing information, insight and recognition of ways to be conscious, active and engaged in standing against the racism that is still quite prevalent in our culture today.

We still do not live in a time where one is judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin, as Martin Luther King, Jr. so famously dreamt. White privilege allows for a majority to be unaffected by racism, yet it is happening everywhere, and it is those of us with privilege who have the power to make real change. The Atlantic slave trade changed the history of this nation. The stories that were told to justify this atrocity run deep within our systems and institutions. These are the themes underlying all of our stories.

Black history is all of our history, and it is much more than slavery. It is entwined in the fabric of our nation and has given much of the food, music, dance, culture, science and inventions that we use and love. The culture created by black history should be celebrated, but it came at great cost.

The pain of slavery is still present. The false definitions of an inferior race continue to affect the descendants of those who were sold into the trade. This month we hope to shed light on the lingering impacts, discuss ways you can talk to your kids about race, cover the science of skin color and ways to normalize and celebrate diversity year-round. I have witnessed a lot of people who have been wronged simply because of the color of their skin and I have listened and learned from their stories and experiences. I hope to be another voice that brings attention, accessibility and a greater understanding to these tough topics. I hope you all will tune in each week and take some time to think about our past and current history and the part you wish to play in the story of the future.

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