Someone has finally discovered post-racial America’s deepest darkest secret: It’s racist.
Nsenga Burton of The Root notes that the show What Would You Do?—a gimmicky program that runs sociological experiments, Candid Camera-style—discovered this distressing news when it dispatched two fake bike thieves to a predominantly white park. The scenario produced heinous, if also somewhat hilarious, results:
The men were dressed the same and had tools to break the locks off of the bikes which were located in an exposed area. Each man attempted to steal the bike in broad daylight. The white “thief” was allowed to go about his business pretty much unbothered, even breaking out an electric saw to draw more attention, because people failed to stop him. Over 100 people passed by and only one couple attempted to contact authorities. Someone even wished him good luck. The black bicycle “thief,” not so much. He was surrounded immediately, yelled at and people were whipping out cell phones and snapping pictures of the “thief.”
Watching the video below, the black bike thief looks a little younger than the white thief, and the white thief is bigger (more intimidating?) than the black thief, that’s about it for variables. The footage seems to reach a shameful pitch at the point when white parkgoers, confronting the black thief, clump up. It’s not exactly a mob, but it certainly reminds you of one.
Once, I interviewed a D.C. bike thief who happened to be black. The pilferer operated in Capitol Hill and Georgetown, where he stole bikes, he explained, from the rich and sold them to mostly poor African Americans and Latinos. He’d been doing it for years, and had never been so much as challenged. The key, he revealed, was that he never touched locked bikes, only unlocked ones, so that as he made off with the merchandise there was no reason to suspect him. He looked like a guy picking up his wheels. If he found a bike that he needed that was locked (he took orders from customers who sometimes wanted a certain kind) he called in his buddy, a “Spanish” guy with light skin. His partner was usually able to pry the lock off without being questioned.
The fact that we link criminality to race is pretty pathetic. In the What Would You Do? clip, note how the white thief begs for a confrontation, only to find that people are unwilling to even be rude to him. White privilege is that overpowering. (“I guess I have to ask, is that your bike?” “I guess, technically, no.” “O.K.”)
On the other hand, the black thief gets his tools stolen by a white-haired gentlemen who obviously saw Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.
To be clear, the Clint Eastwood–wannabe was doing the right thing. But people like him need to be equal opportunity bad-asses, fighting crime no matter what the criminal happens to look like.