BRATTLEBORO — I do not call myself a “white ally,” nor do I label myself in any way which commits me to a formulaic list of prescribed behavior.
When I lived there in the late 1970s, Main Street separated East Buffalo from West Buffalo. It was a “color line” in a town where open racism was common.
When Diane and I went to a Gino Vannelli concert together, neither of us expected to end up in jail. Diane, star-struck, hoped to meet Gino, so we went to the Statler Hilton, where he was staying, to wait for him in the lobby.
After a while, the hotel detective appeared, backed by two uniformed security guards, and started to harass Diane. Turning to me, he said: “You can leave, we'll deal with her.”
Apparently they assumed that Diane - whose hue is darker than mine - was a prostitute, and I was the john. After I affirmed, “I am not leaving, she is my friend,” we were both handcuffed and arrested. They were physically rougher on Diane than on me. Wanted or not, it was white privilege.
In the court, Diane, not happy with the proceedings, stood up and proclaimed: “The Judge is a jive-ass motherfucker!”
When I had been arraigned and it was Diane's turn, I refused to leave. A sharp device was clamped to my hand, and the bailiff yanked. The Buffalo criminal justice system was slow to give us our phone calls: Finally, on the third day, I reached friends who bailed us out.
Oddly, at a subsequent hearing, Diane and the judge bantered about their astrological signs. Still odder, a couple of months later, Diane told me that she had run into the hotel detective on the street, and they had a cordial greeting. Go figure!
Racism, as we know, still rears its ugly head, even in progressive Brattleboro, as it did in a recent road rage incident.
Apparently, some folks think that, in response to a vile racist epithet, the only acceptable response from a “white ally” is to get out of the car right there on the roadway, march up to the offender's window, and confront him.
The choices are, we are told: Do nothing, or get out of the car and get in the yahoo's face, even though he may decide to “stand his ground” and shoot you (or your wife). Surely, we have more intelligent choices, but on the spot - unprepared - we may react without clear thinking.
I hope that the Brattleboro Community Justice Center or some other group will offer training to prepare people for those types of incidents before they happen.