Our Next President Must 'See Race'
Updated: Apr 19, 2019
There are plenty of reasons to disqualify Howard Schultz as a presidential candidate in my mind:
Not selling his Starbucks stock
being opposed to universal healthcare
me having a bitter taste in my mouth about a billionaire as president
him acting like taxing the rich is a ridiculous idea
his third party bid would help re-elect our current president
Just to name just a few.
He’s been a nonstarter in my mind from the beginning, but the debate surrounding his candidacy has been interesting to watch. After the election of Donald Trump I can let my mind drift to things that I would have never thought possible. Maybe a third party candidate could win. Who knows? But then came his town hall on CNN. He was asked about racial profiling in America. His response
‘I didn’t see color as a boy and I honestly don’t see color now.’
This is the number one disqualifier in my book.
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Utah. My graduating class was roughly 2000 people. Of those about 3 or 4 students were black. We were white. Sure, there were some other ethnicities around, but we were white. I grew up believing racism to be a thing that used to happen long ago. I had a few experiences that should have told me otherwise, but I was young and didn’t see them.
For example, I got a job at Crown Burger and I was the only white person on staff. I got paid a dollar more than everyone else because, I was told, I speak English. Well, everyone else spoke English too. I was the only one not required to help clean after closing. I still don’t know how long it takes to close down a restaurant. One time around Christmas, paychecks were being withheld until a certain time. Everyone was very upset about it. I walked to the back like normal and the manager gave me mine before the allotted time without a second thought. Maybe I didn’t see it because I developed good friendships with many of my coworkers. I bought Lourdes 30 minutes on my phone so she could call her mother in Mexico. I went to a Mexican dance club with Leti. I attended a baby blessing and gave gifts for birthdays. I laughed and joked during work without a care in the world. One of the girls told me her uncle was hit by a car and killed.
I said, ’OMG what did the police do?’ She looked at me with such exasperation when she said, ‘Sarah, nobody cares about us. That includes the police.’ I should have seen race then, but I didn’t. I actually just didn’t believe her.
I was working at Buckle when one of my coworkers was expressing frustration about not being able to find a particular brand of clothing her son wanted. She went on to explain that her adopted son is black. He’s entering his teenage years and is struggling with figuring out who he is. I want to put my foot in my mouth when I think about what I said, ‘Doesn’t every teenager struggle with that? Why can’t he just wear something else?’ She said when you’re different from everybody else it can present unique challenges.
She, as a mother, wanted to do all she could to alleviate that inevitable struggle he faced. I should have seen it then, but I didn’t. I dismissed the whole interaction as a mom being overly sensitive about her child, perhaps even overcompensating for that fact that he was adopted. Silly, young girl I was. Now that I have a child that is different, I wish I could go back in time and give this woman a hug.
When my sister got engaged to a black guy I remember my grandma said, ‘Oh no, is she really gonna marry that colored fella?’ I should have seen it then, but I thought to myself, ‘Well, that’s a generational thing. What more can you expect from an old lady?’ When my sister became pregnant, I started to cry because I didn’t live near her at the time. My other grandma misread my emotion and said, ‘I know, what is your dad going to do when she shows up on his porch with a biracial child.’ I remember being confused about why having a biracial baby concerned her so, but, of course, I didn’t ask.
I wasn’t truly confronted with the issue of race until I moved to California. I worked at a clothing store at the Del Amo mall when I realized I had no idea how much of a bubble I lived in my whole life. A black woman entered the store and immediately I was instructed to follow the customer around in my earpiece. It’s not that abnormal to have repeat shoplifters so I assumed this customer was known to the team. The method I learned in Utah to prevent shoplifting is to give attentive customer service.
So, I approached the woman and I asked if she needed help finding anything. She said no thank you and kept shopping. The voice came over my earpiece again, ‘This isn’t Utah, stay on that lady.’ I felt awkward because I just talked to her. She was looking at some t shirts so I said, ‘We just got those in. They’re really cute.’
She looked me dead in the eyes and I’ll never forget what she said. ‘I’m not going to steal anything.’ In my surprise, I blurted out, ‘Oh sorry, they told me to watch you,’ gesturing over to my coworkers. She let out a knowing sigh, ‘Imagine that, out of all the customers in this store they told you to watch the black one.’
When she left the store, I got angry with the team. Why did they embarrass me like that?! My manager looked at me and said, ‘Black people steal Sarah. You have a lot to learn about how things really are.’ Well, she was right about one thing. I did have a lot to learn about how things really are.
The time I spent at that store taught me more about racial animosity than a lifetime in Utah ever could. I was speaking loudly and slowly to an Asian customer once. She said, ‘I’m Asian, not stupid.’ A black trans employee didn’t make it to work because she was beat up at the bus stop. I tried to break up an argument once when the girl turned to me and screamed, ‘I don’t need a white girl to vouch for me!’ I can give countless examples of tension while I worked at that store and lived in that city.
I struggled to figure out how to conduct myself once I started realizing people judged me for my skin too. People assumed I was rich, that my life was easy, free from the struggles of the people around me. In some ways those assumptions were right. I never had a problem getting a job or an apartment. I was pulled over once when I had a bag of weed in the car. I had it on the passenger seat, right in the open, when the officer approached the window. My car wasn’t registered and I didn’t have my license because I had lost it at a bar somewhere. Sounds like the recipe for disaster right? Nope. The cop took the weed and told me to go home. No ticket, nothing. It’s hard to imagine the same outcome happening if my skin wasn’t white. My own biases emerged as time went on as well. I visited my sister once and shocked her with my harsh rhetoric about the city I lived in. I was knee deep in the realization that it is easier to be around people that are similar to you.
When I returned to Utah, I was again culture shocked. I remember walking down my dad’s street and crying uncontrollably. After living in an impoverished neighborhood riddled with crime and uncertainty, I was struck by the beauty of the neighborhood. The safety I felt was so relieving it felt tangible. It was hard to explain to my family members the guilt this relief was causing me. The struggles in California are crushing people. I was able to just throw my hands up and decide I’m done with it. It was hard for me to square with the fact that people are born into impossible situations with no safety net. They don’t have the resources, knowledge about programs available, family financial support or anything else.
I began to realize what white privilege actually means. It doesn’t mean
life isn’t hard for white people or white people don’t work for what they have. People don’t say it to somehow diminish who you are or make you feel shame about being white. It doesn’t mean that white citizens owe them anything.
What it does mean is that out of all the struggles a person can experience in life, race won’t be one of the ones that white people face. It’s a way to point out that racial issues often get overlooked because the majority of people don’t experience it, especially here. It’s an acknowledgement that problems that exist today are largely due to generational oppression of minority groups.
It’s easy to assume that racism is a thing of the past when it doesn’t have a negative impact on you daily or when you live in a place that is dominated by one group of people. I have the luxury of choosing whether or not to look at the subject closely. Others don’t have that choice. Racial bias is woven into the fabric of our society, but it is institutionalized as well. It’s built into:
the criminal justice system
the housing market
the banking system
the school system
the healthcare system
every other institution in our country
You can see it clearly in generational wealth or generational poverty patterns. Even our elected leaders don’t reflect the population, although it’s getting better. Racism has been a driving force in this country since its inception. That’s undeniable. Our leaders must understand and face that fact.
Not seeing race is a form of willful ignorance that will most definitely propel us forward on the path Trump has sent us on. We need a course correction, not fuel added to the raging fire of racial injustice. Howard Schultz can choose not to see race if he wants. If that’s his choice than he has no business running for president.
We need a leader that is prepared to call out racism, denounce it and educate the public about how to solve the problem. We need someone who will study the subject and listen to the outcry. We need a leader that can show people how to be an ally to oppressed groups especially when you might not be experiencing that oppression yourself. We need a leader that can help us take steps toward the perfect union that America is supposed to be. They need to be driven by empathy and a care for all people. We need to elect a president that believes that all people are created equal while at the same time acknowledging that our system and society are far from treating people that way.