Recently, a white guy took his mixed-race children to Wal-Mart and all hell broke loose. Someone--stories seem to vary on whether it was a customer or Wal-Mart security--saw the guy with kids who "didn't seem to fit" and called the police. The police went by his house (immediately) to check it out, determined that everything was okay and went on their way...and then roughly 276,383 bloggers and minor news sources got involved.
If you've ever read this blog before, you probably know that I'm not a racist. My daughter literally didn't know that there were different races until she went to school and someone else filled her in, despite regularly interacting with people from at least a dozen different countries. She viewed the differences in the color of their skin no differently than differences in hair color or height. Probably, had she been in that parking lot, it wouldn't have registered with her that those little girls didn't look like the biological children of the man they were with. And that's a lovely society to look forward to. But it's also beside the point.
Discrimination sucks, and I'll be the first to admit that I don't really know what it's like. I've seen it, but as a middle-aged white chick, I haven't felt it. But it, too, seems to me to be rather beside the point in this case.
What happened is that someone saw very young children with a man they thought perhaps shouldn't have them and acted. Then, the police immediately followed up to make sure those children were safe.
Yes, it was an inconvenience and probably very stressful for the parents, and I'm not minimizing that. But look at the bottom line: it's not that a stranger at Wal-Mart was racist because he or she recognized that it's very rare in our society for a white man to have children who appear to be African American. It's that a stranger at Wal-Mart went out on a limb to make sure that a stranger's children were safe.
Just recently, we saw the escape of three women who had been held captive in Ohio for years. After the escape, neighbors told us that they'd called the police on more than one occasion, but the investigation was half-hearted at best and those girls grew into women as captive victims. Not these cops. They followed up so quickly that they reached the guy's house before he got home himself.
I'm a mother and a grandmother, and I can tell you without reservation that if some stranger had ever called the police because of something out of the ordinary they thought they'd witnessed, and the police ran right over to my house and asked me to prove that those kids were mine or that their mommy knew I had them, I'd offer a sincere thank you. No, it wouldn't be any fun, but I WANT to live in a society where strangers care about children they think may be in danger and police follow up quickly.
In 1999 (the last year studied), 797,000 children were reported missing. 33,000 of those are believed to be non-family abductions--you know, people like those girls in Ohio or Elizabeth Smart or, worse, young children who are molested, terrorized and then killed. When those children survive, it's often because something out of the ordinary caught the eye of a stranger, who had the courage to act...and then the police took that person seriously enough to investigate quickly and thoroughly. Amber Alert reports alone have saved 642 children since the program was implemented.
Our ridiculous knee-jerk reaction to the fact that racial disparity was an element that caught the eye of the reporter in this case has sent a powerful message to society that if you're uncertain, you should keep your damned mouth shut. It's just not worth the risk to make that call and have the press ranting about what a horrible person you are for weeks on end because you wanted to make sure that kid was okay. You were probably wrong anyway.
So...mission accomplished. Society has learned its lesson about getting involved and children may die, but better that than having them saved because someone recognized a racial disparity and wasn't quite sure about it, right?