No matter how well dressed, or how intelligent or how wealthy a black person is, there’s no escaping skin color and there’s no escaping the racial profiling that goes along with it. If anyone can prove that point, it’s renowned physicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who in a Facebook post from Tuesday, described dozens of encounters he’s had with police, for no reason other than his being African-American.
In the post, Tyson told of a conference for black physicists he attended in 1991. One evening, after enjoying good food and wine, the discussion turned to the police. The physicists began relaying stories of being pulled over by the police.
While most people probably have stories of being pulled over a handful of times in their lives, this table full of physicists had more than a handful of stories, and the intrusiveness of the stops was pretty telling.
As a scientist, Tyson is cautious about jumping to conclusions. He noted that he and his colleagues had these police stops in common. Were police targeting physicists for some reason? Are smart people automatically suspicious? It couldn’t have been the cars. Some were old, some were new. Some stops were during the day, some at night. The conclusion Tyson made, though is that:
It’s rare that Tyson jumps into politics, and he didn’t specifically mention Black Lives Matter or any of the infamous black victims of police, but one can certainly infer by the timing of his post, that it’s in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and it’s further proof that all the education and poise in the world doesn’t stop black people from being targeted. This is the very definition of white privilege.
He’s also right. Black people are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police and they’re also more likely to be innocent of any wrongdoing during traffic stops. Fortunately, Tyson never had to go to jail, but black people are far more likely to be arrested, convicted, and yes, shot. If a group of scientists can conclude that there are racial disparities in the justice system, perhaps we should listen.