Recently, a woman who happens to live at the end of my block in Los Altos made a horrific request on Nextdoor. The post was addressed to an African-American friend of mine. The author states that according to the census, there were “150 black people in Los Altos.” She then continues: “But (e)very white person I know says I have never see (sic) anyone black in Los Altos.” She then makes a request of my friend to bring her “whole family, mixed or whatever, to make being black in downtown Los Altos normal.” Apparently, the woman thought this was an “awesome” idea: have the Black family wander the streets downtown, so people can gawk.
I grew up in a suburban town in northern New Jersey, not too dissimilar to Los Altos, where I have lived for almost 30 years. There was a single Black family in my hometown; ironically, they happened to live at the end of my block. In third grade, I received my first kisses in a “kissing contest,” which consisted of a chaste peck on the cheek. One of the three boys vying for my attention was my neighbor. It was completely unremarkable to me that I was white and he was not. It turns out that it actually was a big deal at the time to have an African-American family in our town. They moved away after a few years, but a lot of people moved around.
There was anti-Semitism as well as racism. I had rocks thrown at me, and my brother was shoved into a locker and punched in the mouth because “Hitler missed a few” and we were “Christ-killers.” I think it is reasonable to assume my neighbors relocated, as they felt they were not welcome in the community.
Fast forward 50 years. I would have thought it would be different by now, but nothing has changed. Ignorance and racism are still rampant in this country. The shootings of unarmed men of color by the police have been happening for decades, more likely centuries; it is just the ubiquity of cellphones that has provided visual evidence and that, belatedly, is starting to hold the police accountable for their actions. The charges brought against Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers in Minneapolis, along with those announced recently against Garrett Rolfe, the officer who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks as he ran away, are a start. Footage revealed that not only did Rolfe fail to administer medical assistance to Brooks, which he is under oath to do, he actually kicked Brooks’ lifeless body.
As a pediatrician in Santa Clara County, I see many, in my neighbor’s words, “mixed or whatever” families. As a white woman, I can’t imagine having to fear for my children’s safety when they go for a jog, or a drive, or on a fast-food run. I have not been indifferent to the struggles of families of color in our community, but I sure as hell haven’t been as much of an advocate as I should have. And for that, I apologize to my patients, and friends, and the community at large.
So, to my neighborhood “Karen” (as white women of privilege have come to be known) and all of her ilk, I say: Being Black in Los Altos, or anywhere else in this country, is and should be “normal.” People of color are welcome in our community; you, however, are not.
R Lisa Bernard is a Los Altos resident.