We can do hard things. Let’s talk.


Why didn’t they just do what they were told? It’s the police. Just Do What You’re Told.

I gave last week’s small bites spot to the movie The Hate U Give. That got me thinking – this seems like a good time to tackle interactions with the police.

Thanks to our phones, incidents of police brutality are becoming better documented and publicized. Used to be you had first hand accusations or eyewitness accounts, but they just didn’t capture the intensity of a confrontation between a black man and the police. Plus – and I am 100% complicit in this – it’s next to impossible for a white person (who by our nature have only experienced police interactions as white people) to grasp what they’re like for someone who’s black or brown.

Now there’s video. And audio. And it’s hard to argue appropriate force when you’re watching a fourteen-year-old black girl get punched repeatedly by an officer.

But let’s back this up a moment. I’ve heard more people than I care to admit lay this argument out there – that if the black man had only done as the officer asked everything would have been fine. This seems solid in theory right up until you mix in that pesky human nature.

You guessed it, Robert Bowers is white. Implicit bias weighs heavily here.

Implicit bias:

when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge

Have you seen Project Implicit? It was founded in 1998 by three scientists: Tony Greenwald (University of Washington), Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard University), and Brian Nosek (University of Virginia) as a collaboration to educate on hidden biases. The site has a range of tests designed to reveal attitudes about characteristics like race, weight, sexuality, or disability. I’ve done a few of them – facing up to that kind of truth can be brutal but it’s worth it.


Thousands of messages have sunk into our collective subconscious over the years, teaching us that blacks are inferior. Here are just a few:

  • Who typically makes the 100 Most Beautiful People list?
  • Who are the ten richest people in the world?
  • Who controls the banks?
  • What do our doctors, lawyers, professors, politicians, and accountants look like?
  • Who’s in AP classes?
  • Who gets described as a shooter and who’s “mentally unstable”?
  • In popular media, who is depicted as a devoted father and who’s the baby daddy?

There are about a million more but we can’t roll like this forever. Here’s my point: each of us is submerged in a deluge of messaging and that has an effect. Specifically, we absorb the idea that black people are less intelligent, irresponsible, unmotivated, more likely to be violent, and live in neighborhoods that are inherently dangerous and criminal.

What does that sort of conditioning do to police officers who have seconds to make life or death decisions? You go on instinct. But what if your bias means you yourself are the danger? That you’ll tell a white person to put their hands up but shoot the black person?

I’ll leave you with Bishop Swan’s thoughts.

The Small Bites series is meant to break down tough conversations into manageable pieces. I hope you come into this space with an open mind. For my part, I know now what I didn’t know in my twenties and thirties, but I don’t yet know what I don’t yet know. Thanks to those who are willing to share their thoughts and perspectives in the comments.

You can find other entries by selecting small bites in the drop down menu under “series posts.”