To be young, targeted and black, sho'nuff ain't where it's at...
Okay, don't think of me as naive or blind to facts, but damn, when are we as Black men going to stop being the prime targets for real and the faces of domestic terror? Granted, as a native of one of Wilmington, DE's toughest neighborhoods (take my word for it, East Side is a wild one), I'm familiar with having your head on a swivel and securing your own safety with common sense. Yet and still, that doesn't make these random acts of violence and lying on us anymore justifiable. It's unwarranted, absurd and reduces me using the pouty childhood term unfair.
One incident that will always stick with me was my junior year of high school when late one Friday night, I reluctantly accompanied my mother to a grocery store in another part of town, no better than our own. As I wandered through the aisles, waiting on Mom to finish up whatever shopping she was doing, I realized I was running out of Denorex shampoo. I hustled over to that aisle, grabbed a bottle and walked away to find mom and let her know that I needed shampoo. Little did I know that a store manager was right on my ass.
At 5'8 and 260 pounds then, I guess I looked the part of a thief in the physical sense, but my bummy choice of light gray sweatpants and a San Diego Chargers T-shirt with bright yellow writing on it wasn't exactly camoflauge material. Still that didn't stop the manager from asking "do you mind telling me what you're doing with that shampoo?" Just then my mom turned the corner and here I was, 16 years old, insulted, embarrassed and stunned all in one turn, trying to explain to this goof that I was planning on giving it to my mom so she could pay for it at checkout. Of course mom hit the roof and we left everything there and walked out while other patrons swarmed the manager with angry words.
My mom was steamed but I was laughing it off like "Mom, it's over." Even if it was a short experience, it's one that has stayed with me for the better part of 11 years.
Those feelings of shame, embarrassment and hurt all come flooding back whenever I hear about any person of color wrongly accused of crimes against - let's keep it 100 - White people. Jennifer Wilbanks a.k.a "The Runaway Bride", the unsolved Natalee Holloway disappearance to this recent disappearing act. It's always something, is it not? I take solace in knowing that my ancestors have gone through it all so that we could walk down the street freely. And it brings me to one of my favorite essays, Black Men in Public Space by Brent Staples. In 1986, Staples wrote an essay about the perils of being a black man in public, and I didn't discover it until I was 18 years old. It was an entertaining and realistic view of the fears we as Black men face, knowing that white folks lock their doors quicker and women clutch their purses a bit tighter when they see us. Frustrating to say the least. And while there is a crime epidemic going on, why blame all of us when there are only a few that are terrorizing innocent people? Simple. It's been easier to stereotype than it is to learn and be open-minded. And innocent black men suffer.
I wish I could offer a solution, but I can't. No one knows what it will take for things to change, but I'll continue to be careful and advise all brothers to do the same, before we become the next ones blamed for the fear white people have of us.