I AM: A Young Black Man
In all the madness, anger, sadness, rage, and disenchantment that we all feel from the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I produced this piece as my contribution to the conversation. It’s only a minute long, but serves as my tribute to all of the young Black men who are so much more than what the world sometimes allows them to be:
Thank you for creating this Tumblr!
While my story isn’t as harrowing as others’, I do believe it has negatively changed me as a person. My parents raised me to be a polite, upstanding young gentleman. I was taught to hold doors for people who are following behind me, open car doors for women, look people in the eye and say “Thank you.” I have, however, given up on committing one of these acts; I will not ask women, especially elderly women, if they need help carrying a heavy load.
Now, I’ve learned to keep distance when walking behind people in my neighborhood as I could see as that may be threatening to some people, but I feel that offering to help a woman carry groceries to or from her car is a pretty harmless thing. Unfortunately, I’ve had one too many people recoil in instinctual fear following an offer of assistance. As much as I’d like to think that I’m big and scary, I’m pretty unequivocally a non-scary person. I grew up in suburban Connecticut, I have no “urban” speech patterns, I keep my hair short and am clean-shaven for my office job. Despite this, I seem to be decently talented at scaring people. Scaring them enough that they clutch their purses and glance from side to side looking for help. After having someone viscerally react so strongly to what I can only imagine is the color of my skin, I’ve given up on it ever working out. Having someone pull back from you simply due to your skin color is a thoroughly damaging experience. No matter what I do or how I present myself I will always be Black and I’m damned proud to say that. Unfortunately not everyone feels the same.
So, after Trayvon’s premature death, I wonder what could have happened in one of these situations if I wasn’t so aware of the potential for myself to come off as frightening. What if I had been wearing a hoodie? I’ll often throw a hoodie on over a collared shirt. Or what if I pulled out my earbuds to say, “Excuse me, would you like a hand with that?” and my rap music had been a little too loud? What if the woman gave a shriek or actually yelled, “Help!” and some upstanding citizen came to her rescue? Because part of “Stand Your Ground” is to allow citizens to protect those who can’t protect themselves, like little old ladies who can’t even carry their own groceries, right? If enough of those “if’s” had occurred, then I, maybe, could have been Trayvon.
my “hoodie” picture needs no wardrobe change
My “hoodie” picture needs no wardrobe change. no new setting— a faculty office will do just fine, just as it was several years ago at FIU, when a security guard drew his gun on me as i left my office one evening. Was it the fact that i spoke to him in Spanish that saved me? Simply, and even softly: “Calmate. Soy Profesor.” But this/my story is the story of many of us. ain’t new. i am not surprised by what ZImmerman did to Trayvon. What de system (yes, Mutabaruka has already told you) has done to him and his family and all justice yearning people, again. but rather, oddly, i am deeply shocked by the consistency. the banality. the everydayness of the denial of recognition of the humanity of black boys and girls men, womyn, some who are both & some who are neither. … ellipsis (and you may wonder how long it takes the writer to recover, to place hands shaking on keyboard. how breathlessly the author muffles his sobs in his office which literally overlooks ivy colored walls on a beautiful New England Spring day)
Parenthesis. odd word. hold multitudes. hides sins.
So the truth is, i do my work where i find it. yes. & i try to support those doing their work where they find it & where i can. Yes. & i do what with this sadness? and —yes, i think it is, finally after so many years, yes finally rage. i do my work … .
Racism in Aisle 3
My husband could be Trayvon. He grew up in one of only five black families in a predominantly white town and was bullied, chastised and harassed throughout his school years. He was taught early on that he had to behave in a different manner from the white kids because he was subject to more scrutiny. Thankfully he learned those lessons well or a recent incident may have ended very differently.
We were shopping in a Costco store in a predominantly white, blue collar area. My husband was waiting in the extremely long line as I gathered a few last items and overheard a woman telling someone else that the lines weren’t really that long, there was just a bottleneck and that if you could pass it, you could be out of the store quickly.
I entered the line and mentioned the woman’s words to my husband, so he told me to stay with the cart while he checked it out. I watched him weave through the other carts and walk to the left, out of my sight for a moment. He then appeared again motioning with his arm for me to come to him. Just as I began to move, the man in front of me, a short, white man in probably his late 40s or early 50s darted out into the aisle with his cart and zoomed up to where my husband was standing, ending up in a much shorter line, directly behind my husband.
I approached with our cart and as I neared the man asked, “Excuse me, can you move just a little to the left so I can get my cart by you?” The man ignored me. I asked again, but still received no response. My husband then turned around and asked the man, “Excuse me, would you please let my wife through with our cart?”
My husband is 6’4” and at least 265 pounds. He is a proud U.S. Army veteran and has been trained in combat, sharp shooting, etc. He is also a black man and knows that his size coupled with the color of his skin can be “intimidating” to people and because of that, he is known as a gentle giant by all who know him. He makes sure to speak softly to unfamiliar people and tends to move slowly. He has an incredibly calm and patient demeanor, whereas I tend to be quicker to react.
After my husband’s request to let me pass, the other man finally reacted. He said quietly, “If you want the place in line, you’ll have to fight me for it.” My husband had no visual reaction, but I was in total shock, mouth agape, face screwed up, trying to figure out if we were on some crazy hidden camera show. My husband simply stood there, he didn’t move a muscle and said, “Sir, I am in front of you. You can’t check out until I have completed my business and my business includes my wife and the cart, so please step aside.”
Then it happened. The quiet, short, white man yelled at the top of his lungs, “THE BIG BLACK GUY WANTS TO FIGHT ME!!! HE WANTS TO BEAT FOR MY PLACE IN LINE!!!!” My husband still did not react; he simply looked at me as the words, “OH HELLLLL NO!!” must have hovered above my head in a thought blurb. The man continued to shout as people looked on, “THE BIG BLACK MAN WANTS TO BEAT THE LITTLE GUY!! BEAT ME BECAUSE I AM LITTLE! BECAUSE I AM NOTHING!!”
People around us were all looking at us, but no one moved. Did they believe him? Were they afraid of my big, hulking husband and his brown skin? Now I was picturing the police being called and the more-than-likely white officers either tackling, tasing or shooting my husband for doing nothing more than standing in line, simply because some other man said something untrue. My heart was racing! Do we just ditch the cart and leave the store? How do we end this without it escalating any further and my beautiful, God-fearing, volunteer fire brigade member, union steward, former gang-prevention coordinator at the Boys & Girls Club, black man having a run-in with the police?
There was another black man in the store. He was in the line next to us and had observed the entire incident. He left his cart and put his hand inside his jacket. He approached us and showed us his badge. The brother was an off-duty police detective from a nearby town. He held his badge up so that others could see his was an officer and then approached the white man who was no longer screaming, but was still saying things like, “I am a doctor! I help poor people all of the time! I don’t deserve this!” When he saw the badge, he quieted down for a second and then said, “Officer! He wants to fight me! Look how big he is!”
The officer told him to simply stop. He said he had observed the entire exchange and that my husband had neither said nor done anything to threaten or harass him in any way. Now the other people in the line chimed in, saying, “Yeah! He didn’t do anything!” The officer told the man to step aside and my husband and I paid for our groceries in peace. The little man stayed behind us, quietly. The officer also commended my husband for remaining so calm and not reacting in any way at all. “You know,” he said, “if you had even raised your voice, the local police would’ve been in here and you would be face down being handcuffed.” My husband shook his hand and replied, “Yeah, man. I know. It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this. That’s why I didn’t react.”
We placed our groceries in the car and as my husband arranged them, I went to place the cart in the cart return. On my way back, I saw the man who had caused the scene. He was parked only 2 cars from us and as I passed by, he looked at me with anger and disdain. I turned my heard to avert his gaze and heard, “NIGGER LOVER!!” I wanted to turned around and let him know that despite my freckled, fair skin, reddish hair and green eyes I’m black too. So rather than “Nigger lover,” he should just call me “Nigger.” But I didn’t want to fan the flames so I returned to our car and didn’t tell my husband what was said.
Trayvon is neither the first nor the last black man to be judged or harassed because of his appearance. My husband wears a hoodie throughout the winter months and he often works odd hours, coming home well after midnight. We live in a nice area, but I always ask him to call me from the car and talk to me on his way home, just in case he gets pulled over or if someone questions his reasons for driving a nice car, being out or even in our neighborhood after midnight. It’s funny how often I take it for granted that my neighbor probably doesn’t worry about her white husband driving around or going to 7-11 in the wee hours. I guess I’ve kind of become accustomed to it and just imagined that we all live that way. But Trayvon Martin’s death reminds me that it isn’t so. No one questioned George Zimmerman’s right to be out, driving around with a gun. His father said he was going to the store, but did he really need a gun to go to the store? While Zimmerman slept warm in his bed on February 26th, Trayvon’s body lay cold in the morgue. Every night I thank God that my beautiful black man makes it home safely.
“Some black girl stole that nice car and is staking out the barbecue shop.” But the real kicker is….
I was visiting home last year from New York City. I was in my hometown, a small town in the Midwest. I took my grandparent’s car out for a ride in the next town over. My grandmother was in the passenger seat. Along the road, in a neighborhood that is both residential and commercial, I got out of my car to take a picture of a funny sign for a gun store/barber shop. I walked up and down the sidewalk taking pictures of the sign, then of the lovely Midwest skyline, and finally one of a bird on a pole. I got back in the car and drove home. About ten minutes after I got home, the phone started ringing. My grandfather answered it. The police were on the line. They said that they got a report that my grandparent’s car had been stolen and “some black girl” was driving it around town. They said that “the black girl” was acting suspiciously and was taking pictures and possibly staking out the town’s small barbeque restaurant (I realize, the one next to the gun store/barber shop). My grandpa spoke with them for a while. He was very confused and flustered. He explained that I was his granddaughter and kept telling them I live in New York City now, and was taking pictures because I was there visiting. When he’d finally convinced the police that everything was fine, and hung up, the phone rang again. This time, it was a woman on the other end, the woman who lived next to the barbeque shop. She had seen me through her living room window, written down the license plate number of the car I was driving, and had called the police and said that ‘a black girl” was driving it around, and was taking pictures, her theory, of the barbeque shop. (My grandparents own a newish, nice Cadillac.) She asked the police who owned the car with that license number. The police actually ran the number and told her and gave her my grandparent’s names and phone number. My grandfather spoke with her at length, too, saying the same thing that he’d said to the police. But the funny thing is, although he kept telling everyone that I’m his granddaughter, and that now I live in New York, he was so confused and flustered, he never mentioned the really telling bit of information in all this; I’M NOT BLACK. I am a white woman. I am a pale white woman. I have red hair and green eyes and all of that, and I mean, I’m paler than most white people. And it was a summer day, bright outside, clear skies, and I was wearing a tank top and shorts. I am white, but I do wear my hair in a kind of funky Mohawk, sometimes permed. And it was permed that day, curls piled high. And I do dress strangely. (And coincidently, I have a name that people often say is “a black name.” Whatever. Because of this, I have been called the N- word several times all throughout my life and experienced strange racist reactions.) But this instance, where a person was actually looking at me out of her window and although I’m very white, thought I was black, was the most absurd and extreme of all of them. She saw me and saw that I was weird and felt uncomfortable, and saw my hair was curly and strange, and that feeling of discomfort she associated with seeing a black person, and then she thought I was black. And then from there, because she thought I was black, she thought I must have stolen the nice car I was driving, and that I was getting ready to stick up a barbeque restaurant. I couldn’t make this up. It’s too cliché and ridiculous. I don’t know how to analyze this story. Other than to say, it’s absurd and gross. I also know it’s nothing, nothing, nothing compared to what people who are actually black have to go through on a daily basis. But I hope it does illustrate the insane, inane level of absurd, paranoid racism that is pervading this society, still.