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Like many who watched the video of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer, New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón was deeply affected. “I literally couldn’t sleep,” he said. He had already started a live chat series on Facebook, “Cafecito con Colón,” to help him stay connected to the community during the pandemic lock down. It dawned on him that he could use his platform to amplify Black voices. He originally thought he’d spend a couple weeks talking to Black community leaders. Three months later he had over 50 recorded conversations with Black New Mexicans from diverse backgrounds.
Not everyone was a fan. Some unfollowed Colón, saying that he was doing too much. “Are you ever going to talk about anything else?” was the sentiment from those who pushed back. Colón’s response was to continue these conversations for “as long as it takes me to process, and as long as I’ve got people that are willing to come on and be authentic.”
“It’s so important to chronicle our Black voices,” said Aja Brooks, president of the New Mexico Black Lawyers Association. If we don’t record the experiences of Black New Mexicans, “people will forget about it.”
Themes emerged from the stories shared on “Cafecito.” A common experience was being treated as suspect or criminal.
Leon Howard, legal director of ACLU New Mexico, said the amount of times he’s been pulled over is “crazy.” When he first worked at the ACLU, a police officer pulled him out of his car and made him sit on the curb. Then Leon’s boss, a well-known attorney, emerged from the passenger’s side. “That changed the whole interaction.”
Legislative correspondent Naomie Germain described an incident at a department store when she was shopping with her mother and younger sister. An older white lady had knocked down a stand of purses. Naomie went to go help her and started picking up purses, including, inadvertently, the one belonging to the woman who’d knocked over the stands. The woman grabbed the purse from Naomie’s hands and snarled, “That’s mine!” Naomie was shocked. “I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t even tell her, ‘Oh, I was trying to help you.’ Her action was so jarring to me, I just had to walk away.”
The officer who pulled over KUNM “Train to Glory” host Cecilia Webb admitted he’d initially thought she was a man. He repeated that he couldn’t get a hit on her license plate. Cecilia suspected a different reason: “Driving While Black.”
Comedian and podcast host Robert Gipson’s story has a punchline. He was leaving a restaurant with his date, a white woman. The minute they got into his car, four officers appeared at Robert’s window, guns pointed at his head. They threw him to the ground and handcuffed him, saying his car fit the description of a stolen vehicle. “I knew it was some B.S.,” said Robert, because they could have run his plates. “Anything, instead of the way I was handled and treated.” The police never asked his date for her identification. Instead, they asked her if she was okay. The irony? She actually had two warrants. “I could’ve been with a mass murderer,” said Robert, “and they would’ve never known, because they didn’t do the proper procedures when it comes to her just because of the color of her skin.”
Color-blindness is a fallacy, many guests of Colón’s show have asserted. When people insist they don’t see color and aren’t racist, it really just prevents them from seeing their unconscious bias, said Alfred Mathewson, dean emeritus at UNM. Recognizing implicit bias is hard, said Sonia Gipson Rankin, a law professor at UNM, “because those biases are so embedded into the literature, into the music, into the news, into all of the images that are in your place, that when you’re given counter-information, it doesn’t fit.” Robert Gipson served in the United States Marine Corps, but people who don’t know that don’t treat him with the same reverence as when he wore that uniform. “You have people that say we don’t see color, but as a man of color, a Black man, that means you don’t see me. You have no vision for me at all in the present, in the past or even in the future.” Brandi Stone, director of African American Student Services at UNM, said, “A lot of biracial students are hearing from their other side of the family that ‘I love you, I don’t see color.’ And these kids are saying, ‘See me. I need you to see me. I need you to validate me.’ ”
The best way to be a good ally in the fight for racial equality is to “Stop, reflect, and expand your expertise on what you know,” said Sonia Gipson Rankin. Naomie Germain said, “Talk to your grandparents, your uncle that’s always at the family parties, your cousins who are always saying crazy things, ask them why they say that. The conversation should start at the dinner table.” “This is a long fight. It’s a long haul,” said Leon Howard. “We’re talking about systems that are centuries old that have actually been designed to keep Black people down. So it’s probably going to take just as long for us to get to a point where we’re really talking about equities in our education, healthcare system and our criminal system.”
“Love us,” said New Mexico State Senator Harold Pope Jr. “Love African Americans like you love our culture. Like you love our food. Like you love our music. You love our artists, you love our actors and actresses. You love our slang, our style. You see, so many times in American popular culture, the things that we do become American culture. And some people will take this and, at the same time, not like the people. So I think that’s a huge start, is loving African Americans like you love the culture.”
To see more of the “Cafecito con Colón” interview series, go to facebook.com/brian.s.colon.