Racism is a serious issue, an issue of character and one that brings great damage to individuals and society. But what if you call someone a racist, and they are not? This is a serious issue as well.
In a recent story, a teacher, Tiffany Suetos, was out in front of her school, Red Hawk Elementary, taking pictures to be used in her online classroom; according to her account, she spent 15 minutes in one area before moving to another area to take more pictures. While in front of the school, by default she was also in front of the homes of those who live across the street. According to a police report filed, from the perspective of a particular resident, someone was in front of their home taking pictures of the houses, and they did not know why. They also cited their concern on the report that there had been multiple robberies on the street that week.
According to the police report, the woman of the home came out and tried to engage with Suetos. From the report given by Suetos to the Valley News, she heard that she was being addressed, but said, “I don’t really pay much attention to it.”
Though the woman persisted, Suetos said she still did not respond right away because her phone was about to die so she tried to hurry taking pictures before she was interrupted.
Suetos said to the Valley News that she was approached by a White couple. More specifically, she said that she was first addressed by a woman, and her husband came out of the house after the exchange had begun. However, the woman is not White. She is Mexican, and visibly so. Suetos said that the couple asked her if she was a teacher at the school. The couple later told Valley News that they were unaware that she was a teacher and that, in fact, the reason they wanted to talk with her was to find out why she was there taking pictures. If there were no need to find a guilty party, which I feel no need to do, I would say the conflicting stories simply reflect a misunderstanding.
Suetos alleged that she was racially profiled. She claimed it to the school administration and the police. In Valley News, she said, “This is just completely wrong; it’s hatred at its core. It’s racism. It’s what many people of color call racial profiling.”
Her account of the incident reached hundreds of thousands on social media and more through the local news, and the assumption of racial profiling was taken up by many.
Six days after the interaction, over a hundred demonstrators joined in front of the school to protest what allegedly happened to the teacher. In addition to teachers and parents, students were involved in protesting this assumed act of racial injustice. But the family denies that it was an incident of racial profiling.
In the police report, Suetos’ statement affirmed “the subjects did not use any type of comments which were related to her race. But Suetos stated she just felt she was be(ing) targeted because of her race.”
In an interview with Valley News, Suetos said that the couple repeatedly asked her if she was a teacher; however, in Suetos’ earlier statement to the police, she said that the female resident asked “who she was, what her name was and asked why she was taking pictures of her residence.”
The police report further said that “Suetos informed me that she did not respond to the questions until an unknown male subject exited the residence.”
At that time, according to the police report, “Suetos informed both subjects she was a school employee and left the area.”
There were circumstances that the couple cited as cause for extra cautiousness that have nothing to do with Suetos nor her race. According to National Neighborhood Watch guidance at http://www.nnw.org, if a resident sees something unusual, they should report it, especially in light of the recent criminal activity. The man of the couple has bad eyesight, and at a distance of 50 yards said he saw a figure but could not identify the race of the teacher who was wearing a baseball cap and a mask. But they could see a person with a tripod who was lingering in the area and taking pictures.
The Valley News interviewed the woman who initiated the conversation with Suetos, along with her husband and son. She was visibly upset, tears streaming down her face. They said they were unnerved that people were protesting at the school in front of their home in response to their alleged racist actions. The family said that two cars sat in front of their house for some time after the protest until, at their request, the police asked the drivers of the vehicles to move along. Black Lives Matter was chalked on the asphalt. But beyond feeling intimidated, as someone who has experienced racism, she was equally upset at being accused of being a racist.
This woman’s husband, as an Ashkenazi Jew, considers himself a person of color. He has experienced severe effects of racism. As the couple’s son spoke with Valley News, the emotion was raw as he shared intimate accounts of what the family had suffered and how evil they believed racism to be. They expressed how the sting of having this particular accusation sent their way was especially hurtful.
The husband spoke of his childhood home, bought by his father after he’d returned from World War II. It was the house he left when he went to the army and where he returned to care for his father when he was dying of cancer. He said it sat on an orchard in Central Valley, and they felt it was their piece of the American Dream.
In 1996, he’d been informed someone had broken in, so he returned to his mother’s home. When he arrived, he learned it had been firebombed. The house was gutted and incinerated and swastikas, and anti-Semitic slurs were graffitied everywhere. Of note was the chair, now singed, where his grandfather would sit, and in which he ultimately died. The family shared a microfiche about the arson and told of the two men who were convicted of a hate crime.
The couple’s son went on to share how he learned about the Holocaust and how his family had suffered there. He said that when he was a small child, his great-uncle had come to visit them in California from Texas. He noticed a tattoo on his arm and asked where it came from. He said that his uncle looked at his parents for direction and they nodded as to indicate he should be free to answer their young son’s question. He began to relay his experience with the Nazis and told how when he was just a child, they took his family away and he never saw them again. The account was evidently still fresh as his voice cracked with emotion. With these stories close to mind, he said, seeing these protesters outside my parents’ house, “You can only imagine what went through my head.”
When asked about his parents’ situation, the son said, “It is a fact that Dr. King was always seen as an honorable man in my home. And my parents raised their children not to judge people based on the color of their skin but rather on their content of character. I believe my parents were in fact deemed guilty until they can prove their innocence.”
He went on with the encouragement, “We should remember lessons of history. From Nazi Germany to the USSR and Mao’s China, the same pattern was repeated. People became politically possessed and stopped thinking rationally. How that ended was a small group of people, with no evidence, became a scapegoat to fit the political establishment. Because the truth was not the goal of these movements. But rather, the goal of these movements was simply fostering their revolution. If lies had to be told and innocent people needed to be victimized, this is fine. It was Josef Stalin who left us the quote “To make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.” I feel my parents were the eggs that were broken in order to suit the virtue signaling of the political establishment to suit their agenda with no regard for the fact that my folks are not White, they are not racist and they are not bad people. It scares me to see people jump to conclusions, label their neighbor as their enemy with no evidence and not remember the mistakes of the last century.”
Students being taught to stand against racism also need to be taught to listen to all sides of a situation, not to assume the worst in people and to reject prejudice of every kind. We are in a time when lines between us do not need to be etched more deeply, but where we need to listen, to give others the benefit of the doubt and to be ready to forgive offense.