Amber Alert: snow shovel STOLEN
A neighbor blasted the following email to 375 residents in my neighborhood:
“About 15 minutes ago, I confronted a young man randomly going door-to-door through our neighborhood asking to shovel walks. He is carrying the snow shovel he stole from my front porch. Please do not give him business. I followed his tracks in the snow and caught up with him but he would not return my shovel. African American, late teens/early 20s, wearing green coat, scarf and English cap, old blue snow shovel. Thanks.” (edited lightly for clarity and grammar)
Man down! Shovel missing!
My husband tackled me before I hit “reply all”, so I’m sharing my measured thoughts now. I wanted to point out the numerous assumptions, privileges, and fuckery inherent in this missive, but I grew up in a mid-western household where it’s not polite to point out the obvious, or say words like “fuckery”. It wasn’t the specific incident that bothered me, so much as the larger implications. I’m not justifying theft any more than denying climate change, but what struck me first was the blind allegiance to take our neighbor’s word for the theft without question. I don’t know the neighbor or young man. Even if I did know the young man and deemed him of questionable character, that STILL doesn’t mean he stole the shovel.
White privilege and the imbalance of power
In fifteen minutes, the homeowner reached hundreds of neighbors to thwart one man’s ability to get a few bucks shoveling snow. No questions asked, no proof, just assumptions and judgment. That is real power, and one that is reserved for the privileged. If the neighbor saw the young man steal his shovel, he would have reported that in his amber alert.
Racial profiling is real and this is what it looks like
The neighbor included enough detail to identify the supposed thief. “African American”, while a descriptor, is harmful to black folks hanging out in my 98% white neighborhood. The neighbor led with the young man’s race because a black man sticks out like a sore thumb in my neighborhood. Identifying his race is more than simply descriptive. It’s injurious stereotyping and makes every black person in my neighborhood unsafe and subject to immediate suspicion. It’s the kind of description that fuels men like Trayvon Martin’s killer.
Not “reverse” racism
It is not racist to call out the cranky neighbor’s actions. It may be unfair or untrue, but I’m not calling him out because he’s white or that his favorite movie is Joe Dirt 2. I’m calling his actions racist because of the indignation and the fact he sent a hysterical email about a black youth stealing a shovel from his porte chere that he didn’t see get stolen.
I absolutely would not be concerned if the man was white because white people aren’t being killed in white neighborhoods because they are white. I would be as concerned with a mentally-challenged person or a poor person because those groups of ppl are marginalized and vulnerable in a way a white person is not. Anyone who “doesn’t belong” in a particular neighborhood is vulnerable, but not in the same ways. My white ass in a black neighborhood can still call the police with my iPhone and the officer will likely believe me because I’m white and articulate. The black youth in my neighborhood would not be given that benefit of the doubt.
Racism is oppression, not a feeling
Racism isn’t about how or what you think or your good intentions. Racism is assuming a person is inferior based on the color of their skin. I have stereotyped the idiotic neighbor, which is also unhelpful and rude, but the white dude is in no way being oppressed. Being offended and being oppressed are entirely different.
Agreed it is not okay to steal shit (said the middle-class woman). I feel differently about a car versus a snow shovel, though. Snow shovels aren’t unique. I wouldn’t know my own snow shovel if you hit me on the head with it while I was making a snow angel. Maybe another person stole the actual snow shovel before this black youth walking around with a shovel showed up. The point is my neighbor’s propensity to assume if it’s a black man with a snow shovel, he must have stolen it.
Frankly, if I leave my ten-year-old $45 snow shovel on the porch, I assume that shit is going to be stolen. Steal my rusty snow shovel off my porch once, shame on you. Steal my beloved show shovel from my yard twice, I’m an idiot. I don’t appreciate having to buy a new shovel or put a bike chain on it so it doesn’t get repurposed, but if someone is desperate enough to steal my shovel, maybe they need it more than I do. In fact, shovel my walk first and I’ll give you ten bucks.
I don’t have enough capacity to harness that amount of ire over a show shovel. I save that ire for social justice issues…
R.I.P. Snow shovel