Voices of Race, a portrait series by Kathleen Dreier, is dedicated to amplifying the voices of our BIPOC communities and being a call of action for all people particularly white communities to be social change agents. Each participant is encouraged to share whatever they like regarding diversity, inclusion, racism, culture, privilege, etc. No one is censored. My intention and wish is that the viewer reflect upon the words of the person in the portrait and is inspired to engage in their own courageous conversations with their friends and family. It is time we each take the time to reflect on our individual and collective histories, heal from the damage done, and create the foundation for equity and compassion for every human being.
Note: Over the course of 2020 and 2021, my three photo series (Covid-19 and Tucson Front Line Workers, Tucson Black Voices and What White People Think) evolved into the current series Voices of Race. In time, I will have a dedicated Voices of Race page on my web site. In the meantime, I am sharing some of the posts here in my blog. You can view more on my Voices of Race Facebook page.
Hot Coals by Lou Davis, Tucson Arizona
I recently watched a video of a black police oﬃcer being the brunt of a “joke.” The footage was from a police station in Ohio. It started with the chief of police, a white oﬃcer, placing a yellow raincoat on a desk. “POLICE,” was printed in bold letters across the back.
The chief walked up to a printer, removed a piece of paper, went back to the desk, and taped it across the word, “POLICE.”
The camera zoomed in. The paper read, “KU KLUX KLAN.” The black oﬃcer walked in, saw the paper and laughed.
I know that laugh.
I’ve laughed that laugh.
Although I am a black man, I can not possibly tell you how that black oﬃcer felt. I am not him.
However, I worked for the government for 37 years and have been in similar situations. I can tell you how I felt.
While with Customs and Border Protection, (CBP), I was on a work trip in Montana with my supervisor. We’d just finished a long days work and a two hour drive to our hotel. As we checked in, the person behind the desk asked me if I wanted a room near my boss. I was about to answer when my boss said, “He’ll take what you give him.”
She looked up at him and he said, “Don’t worry; I own him.” I stood there in shock. I said nothing.
It felt like hot coals were in my mouth.
While with CBP, I was on a work trip in Arizona with a diﬀerent supervisor.
I carried most of the heavy equipment. Our contact oﬀered to help.
My boss said, “He’s got it. He’s my man Friday.” I stood there in shock. I said nothing.
I swallowed hot coals.
While in the Air Force, I was at the NCO club at a base in Florida. The DJ was playing dance music. One of my “friends” handed me a folded napkin and asked me to give it to the DJ. I did.
The DJ read the note then looked at me wide eyed. When I got back to the table, my ”friend” was laughing his ass oﬀ. I asked what the note said. “Stop playing ni**** music.”
I stood there in shock. I said nothing.
Hot coals found their way down my throat.
Each of these times and countless times before and after, I either said nothing or laughed along.
I didn’t want to be a complainer.
I didn’t want to lose my friends.
I didn’t want to lose my job.
So I sacrificed my integrity and did nothing. In doing so I swallowed the pain and let the perpetrators continue their’ reprehensible behavior. I not only made it worse for myself, I made it worse for those who followed.
My younger sister visited me in Florida. One of my friends told the NCO club story. Everybody laughed… everybody but my sister… and me. I felt my little sister’s eyes on me.
I couldn’t look at her.
Hot coals settled in my stomach.
The video of the raincoat is out there.
Does the black oﬃcer have a little sister?
Are hot coals burning in his stomach?