by Zac Huxford
I come from what I believe is a unique background and upbringing… to put things blatantly: my mother is black, and my father is white. My parents separated when I was very young, therefore my life has been split between two drastically different environments. I lived with my dad in a rural, mostly white, town and would often visit my mom in the city she lived on the weekends. This city’s population was much more diverse than the rural town that I resided in with my dad, with most people being black or brown.
As I grew up, it became very evident that my two homes were different, especially in the way that communities viewed law enforcement. At my dad’s, an interaction with the police was thought of as a nothing more than an unexpected inconvenience. Though people in town might not have loved each of their interactions with the police there was always a very positive view of the department.
Yet, where my mom resided, this was not the case. I can vividly remember the lively and vibrant block my mother lived, and the way that it would fall silent when an unexpected siren was heard or there was a police officer driving by. As a child, this confused me, so it wasn't until I was older until I could see that this wasn't caused by an overly sensitive block. This was a part of the culture of where my mother lived- it was a learned reaction caused by the regular, and majorly poor interactions experienced by those in the city when law enforcement was near. It was then I truly began to see how the police played a different role in the different communities that I was getting to be a part of.
In a general sense, most of the people in my father’s town truly believed the police were there to help, to keep people safe, and acted in response to this ideology. In the city, the culture expressed that the police were there to "keep order" and control the people of the community. Without the opportunity to experience both perspectives, I don’t think I would be able to understand both sides of the spectrum. And I truly believe that part of the problem: people from rural towns simply don’t understand this, because it is not their lived experience. They are unable to comprehend how other’s interactions with the police could be anything but minorly inconvenient. With that in mind, I think it is important that people make efforts to interact with people from other walks of life. It is so important to understand that just because you have experienced something and seen something a certain way that that might not be the case for others. As I have grown up I have struggled at times to understand and make sense of the world because of the differences between these two environments that I called home.
As a white male, in the rural town I grew up in, I would get let go after being pulled over for speeding, and similarly, I would get a warning from a broken tail light. Even on the 4th of July, my family would have the loudest and largest fireworks set off in our yard without any interaction with law enforcement. In the city, my personal experiences were quite similar- I’d be let off with warnings for not stopping completely at a stop sign and getting nods from officers as I walked around. I had to grapple with the fact that this was mostly due to my race when my family and friends from that area were not receiving the same kind of reaction from law enforcement.
In the same Fourth of July scenario, while in our rural white town we were able to avoid interactions with the police, the people in the city where my mother lived were being harassed over sparkers. When actual fireworks were set off, it was only a matter of time before five or six police cars could be found on that block. If a group of three or more people was getting “too loud”, there was always someone coming to “check it out.”
Though these experiences have left me confused at times, they play an important role in who I am as a person. Being able to view things from both sides of the spectrum have allowed me to become the man that I am today. Even as a white person, who holds so much privilege, these experiences have led me to clearly see a man taking a knee on the football field, state his view of the problems in our country, and clearly understand his intentions and reasoning. It is because of these experiences that I can understand protests, marches and the frustration of communities. I only wish that those around me could also see with clarity that maybe it isn’t about the flag or the soldiers- it’s about something much deeper, and bigger than that.