Photographs and Bias

I live in a mostly black neighborhood. I just saw a white man, a 20-something, standing on the street corner clearly taking a picture of something down the street. It could have been a series of photos, it could have been video, I don’t know.

At first, I noticed I was watching him with mild suspicion. What was he recording? Why was he here? I didn’t recognize him. He didn’t have an air of officialness about him, like a journalist or a claims adjuster. He was there for over a minute, moving twice to get a slightly, but only slightly, different angle.

And as I watched him, I thought about my own reactions. Why should I be suspicious? Honestly, I was only vaguely wary. The idea of taking his photo, just in case, crossed my mind, but not enough to act on it. The idea of calling the police certainly didn’t cross my mind.

Except… what did cross my mind was the thought that a black 20-something dressed roughly like he was, standing on a street corner in a mostly white neighborhood… that’s much more likely to result in a call to the police.

A little while ago, a black man was looking at a white woman in Royal Oak, only a few miles from here. She called the police. She claimed that he was pacing back and forth and watching her suspiciously.

The police arrived and talked to him, but not to her. She was waiting across the street, watching the whole thing. He demanded to talk to a supervisor. Eventually, a few days later, in an act that surprised quite a few people, the police apologized. But they didn’t ever apparently talk to the woman.

The white man taking randomly specific photos of a house or a yard along my street is now gone. I assume he’s harmless. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

I hope my fellow white people can learn to assume the same thing about black folks.

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