One day a couple of years ago, I was out driving with my father, and he asked me if I knew what to do if a cop pulled me over. I was somewhat offended. Naively, I told him, “I roll the window down, have my license and regi...” Before I could finish, he stopped me.
“No,” he said. “You turn the car off completely, roll the window down, keep your seatbelt on and have both of your hands on the steering wheel.”
His advice sounded methodical. I didn’t think much of it while he ran off the order in which I do things.
“When the officer comes to the car, when he asks for your license and registration, tell him — with the utmost respect — that your license is in your back pocket and ask if it’s OK if you get it,” he said. “Tell him your registration is in the glove compartment, and ask if you can get that as well.”
At the time, I didn’t understand the importance of articulating my every move. Now, I thank my dad for that lesson — one of the many that I will always remember. He told me that, as a black male, I have a bull’s-eye on me, and I need to do everything I can to avoid any suspicion.
My parents have raised me and my two brothers well. I have lived a privileged life. I attended a Catholic school and am entering into my final year of college. I am not a statistic. But with police officers — and believe me not all of them are abusing their power — society is telling me, I am.
The list is long with the names of black men and black women who have lost their lives because of their skin color. Many times I tried to believe it wasn’t because of skin color, but how does one get shot, as Philando Castile did, for going through the same procedure I was instructed to when he and his girlfriend got pulled over? How does a 17-year-old boy get shot in cold blood, as Trayvon Martin did, for wearing a hoodie and minding his business while leaving a gas station after getting a snack? As long as you appear threatening, as a black male, your life is at risk.
So as I go about my life, with aspirations of being a sportswriter, my dreadlocks send a message. And that is something I have been cognizant of, even more so in light of all the recent tragedies. At 21 years old, I live in a modern 19th century world. While I am not facing the same problems my ancestors did, I can’t say America is doing better about race than it was hundreds of years ago. I can’t help but be troubled by the ignorance of people who say, “It’s not just ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘All Lives Matter.’ ”
My response to them, “Were you told how to act if you get pulled over? Do you get looks for just walking around in stores?” While I may not have been faced with any of this personally, I am aware that my hair sends a signal; how I dress and how I act can send another.
When my dad has to send me messages about making sure everything is working well with the car so an officer has no reason to pull me over, I realize we still have work to do as Americans. So kill the “All Lives Matter” phrase. Black lives matter right now. “Black Lives Matter” isn’t used to say that black lives matter more than anyone else’s life. As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite. It’s saying black lives matter just as much as anyone else’s. If you can’t see that, then go back and look at your history books.
Some of the same things that came up during the era of segregation are taking on new forms in America today.
Wynston Wilcox is working as an intern for the summer at The Telegraph.