Please do me a favor and read this. And, if your heart compels you, comment. I'd like to spark some open and candid dialogue among a diverse group of people. I wear grown man underwear, so I can digest whatever you have to say!
(apologies in advance for any grammatical errors...I wrote this quickly and from the heart)
Two days ago as I sat in my grandmother's house beneath her authentic "Colored Waiting Room" sign from the 1960s, I took a moment to reflect on whether we, as a
nation, have come as far as we're inclined to believe. Just because we have been able to share the same facilities and/or schools for several decades, doesn't mean we share the same outlook on equality and prejudice. I preface this blog entry by saying that our life experiences as they relate to race undeniably help shape who we become but they don't define us or dictate our character. I guess this blog entry will address the cumulative effect of some of the racially biased events young black children and men face on a far too frequent basis. Like the old days... "let me testify and if I lie cross my heart and hope to die." I preface this entry by emphasizing the fact I don't expect you to fully comprehend, because it's not a feasible expectation unless you've walked in my/our shoes. However, it would be very much appreciated if you could make a concerted effort to empathize. This is something I always promise myself I will do when hearing about the experiences of others. Fair enough?My first recollection of a racially motivated life event was at age 9 or 10 when two drunken Caucasian men threw beer bottles at my mom's car from their confederate flag adorned pickup truck and tried to run us off the highway while calling us niggers and other demeaning names. I remember how it felt seeing my mom remain calm enough to keep the car on the highway while simultaneously trying to disguise what was actually happening so I wouldn't know the coldness of this world. Or, maybe it was only her unspoken way of telling me this is just one of those things that happens to US and we just have to accept it.
I clearly remember a year or two later when, after one of our basketball games, a Caucasian teammate who I had befriended asked his mom if I could spend the night with them. She pulled him aside and said "I don't know, do you think he's safe?" right in front of me like I wasn't standing there; as if all of her valuables and her car
would be gone when she woke up the next morning due to a brazen theft by this 12-yr old black friend of her son who she naively let spend the night. Then there was the time in my middle school science class when, upon rotating to our next lab station, I told my teacher our group's microscope was broken. He then proceeded to accuse me of breaking it and inform me that my parents would be responsible for replacing it unless I admitted to breaking it (which was of course a lie). I still struggle to
understand how it was so hard for my teacher to fathom how the group of Caucasian students ahead of my group in the rotation broke the microscope and refused to admit it (even though I'm certain he saw them goofing around with it). These events stayed in my mind as I prepared to enter high school.
Just when I was riding the wave of having earned my drivers license I was pulled over and harassed by a police officer for driving my mom's car. "How'd somebody like you get such a nice car? What are you selling?" the officer barked. After telling him it was my mom's car, he said "we'll see about that" and not-so -kindly asked me to step out of the car, just before he frisked me and asked if I had any drugs in the car or if it was stolen. He called in several other officers for support while he searched the car. In case you were wondering, yes it is quite humiliating having passers-by slow down and gawk at you while you are sitting on the curb watching the vehicle you were driving get searched. Of course he found nothing. He ran the tags, verified it was my mom's car, and told me to go home as if he was doing me a favor by allowing me to do so,
and as if it was a crime for me to continue driving around. Ironically, growing up in the hood I grew up in, it became somewhat comical to see the number of Caucasian people who came through to get their drugs and drive back to the comfort of their side of town with no worries of police stopping or searching them.
In 12th grade I rode with my cousin and one of my best friends to Aiken, SC for another one of our cousin's high school graduation. Along the way, we got pulled over on the
highway and an officer ordered us out of the car one by one. He then questioned us each individually about where we had been and where we were headed. As usual, the officer (a Caucasian) attempted to belittle me during the unjustified questioning with remarks such as "I don't like the feeling I get around you boy," "You look familiar. Have I locked you up before boy?"
I remember throughout my schooling from K-12 being either the only, or one of only two black people in my AG, Honors, and AP classes and not being able to relate to what many of the other kids were talking about in their daily lives (parties at the clubhouse, cars for birthdays, overseas vacations, pop music, etc). I was the kid in class who hopped on the bus to be driven back to the "bad side of town" when school was over. I managed to still excel but did indeed feel out of place.
During my college years, I remember an occasion where I went to a popular bar/club with a few friends. Upon trying to enter, the bouncer at the door informed me and my
black friend/roommate we could not enter without a membership (hilarious right?). He was unaware of the fact that the Caucasian guy ahead of us who he allowed to enter
with no "membership" was in fact also my friend and roommate. I was disqualified for "membership" to this bar/club at birth when I came out of the womb too dark.
Several years ago my college-educated (two Masters Degrees) cousin discussed with me his anger and resentment after having a cross-burned in his yard in Denver, CO with a message telling him and his nigger-loving (Olympic swimmer) wife to go back to the other side of town. This wasn't in the 1960s, it was the 2000s.
Just last year, one of my close friends called me and I could hear the bitterness and sorrow in his voice. He told me that he had been arrested for armed robbery of a Caucasian fast food manager making her nightly drop at a bank depository. I immediately knew my friend wouldn't commit such a heinous act. He had been picked up by police at an adjacent grocery store parking lot and placed in a police lineup where the female victim identified him as the perpetrator. He had to hire legal assistance to assist him with his case and he is still feeling the hit of those expenses. Even worse, the news of his arrest was published in local newspapers and on local television news broadcasts. Even though the charges were later dropped, when his name is googled, guess what's the first thing to come up in the search. You guessed it. Good
old fashioned "armed robbery suspect caught and arrested," with a nice mugshot photo, He's far from a violent criminal but once that seed has been planted (along with an unjust digital footprint to follow you), it's difficult, if not impossible to recover from. These things add up in the mind of black men and though my faith in God tempers my
anger and resentment, I feel we are justified in having those feelings at times.
These are some experiences of my own that I'm willing to share. And keep in mind these happened to a brown skinned, well-schooled black guy who has never had a tattoo or dreadlocks. So, just imagine the unjust experiences and profiling of other young black men who are darker skinned, and have dreadlocks and/or tattoos. Some of you will laugh these experiences off as some hyperbolized attempt by an angry black man to seek special treatment. Those of you who know me know otherwise.Truth is, these are only some of my experiences and they are all truth whether or not you accept them as such.
I am blessed to have parents that despite what they have seen, did their best to instill in me to never judge one person based on the actions of another. I'm grateful to have a father who didn't sugarcoat to me what being a black man in this world entails. A lot of it was taught through modeling, without him saying a word. I've been blessed to have people in my life from diverse ethnic backgrounds and I will never tell them they have no right to feel a certain way. A testament to how God works is my great friendship with one of my old college roommates. He just happens to be a white guy who grew up poor in a trailer park and knows how it feels to be unfairly judged. It's not my job to prove to anyone that I'm not the person they prematurely perceive me to be. I don't need acceptance from anyone but God. With those things taken into consideration, whether you admit or not,Trayvon Martin had every right to assume the worst when he was being followed by George Zimmerman. Even GZ's best friend said GZ told him he was reaching into his pocket to get his cell phone when Trayvon hit him. If I'm being followed by someone (regardless of color) on a dark rainy night who confronts me in a threatening manner without identifying his position and reaches into his pocket, I'm not waiting to see what he's reaching for. You might not understand or relate, but I hope you can at least try to slide one foot into these shoes we walk in.