I started this blog a couple of years ago after walking out of a Starbucks the night before and hearing someone lock their car door as I approached the curb.
Someone locked their car door on me the other day. While it doesn’t, as it did as a kid, hurt my feelings or make me feel bad about myself, the more notable occurrences of when a white woman clutches her purse or a white person crosses the street at the sight of me send me into deep thought as to who these people are, what experiences laid the groundwork for this mentality, why this phenomena exists and what it says about idle public regard for me versus society’s ideal, white males. The key to not being deeply affected by white people’s constantly intimating that my presence threatens their safety is that I accept that all white people consider me a deadly threat. Even though they all don’t, it’s best to protect myself, my self-esteem and avoid dangerous, potentially deadly situations by assuming the worst and allowing each individual to prove otherwise. If this seems cruel, keep in mind that America allows police to take the same approach to assessing black men, but with deadly consequences. Police assume the worst by preparing for an armed, vendetta having cop-killing brotha and put the burden on the black man to prove otherwise. Many officers can’t release themselves from this mentality and go on to kill. The only thing at stake when I initially assume white people I encounter are racists is my personal and private regard for them. Plus, I make it a point to be easily convinced otherwise. I wish police would do the same.
The other day I walked out of Starbucks in Los Feliz, CA. and as I crossed the street I heard a “click” from the car I was crossing behind. Los Feliz is a liberal upper-middle-class suburb of Los Angeles and since I live there I often forget who I am to America. Not that I feel the need to validate my appearance but I wasn’t exactly dressed like a thug. In fact I was wearing a black half length wool pea coat, dark jeans, Puma tennis shoes, my signature black LA hat and a purple scarf to protect my neck from the cold. I had a backpack over my right shoulder, my Iphone in my left hand and a coffee in my right. Were you to put the same outfit on a 40 year old white man, you’d think he was headed to the office or leaving a meeting. Who knows what part of my overall look made the person in a white Toyota Camry fearful. I just know that the axiomatic perception of threat that goes along with being black and male often makes white folks take noticeable measures to make themselves feel safe.
Trying to conceptualize what it would be like to be this person, see me and think I’d be interested in getting into their car is comical. They really thought I was so hard-wired to do something to them that I’d drop my latte, my laptop and books to get inside their car and hurt them. There were plenty of nicer cars around but this person thought I wanted their Toyota Camry. I wondered if they were male or female. It was night and I caught a glimpse, but could only see that they were white with short blonde hair. Perhaps it had nothing to do with me and I just happened to walk out at the exact same time during their drive that they realized they hadn’t locked their car doors. Moments like this motivate me to think broader. It’s sort of like when you just can’t remember something but suddenly recall it when you ask someone else. This is because your mind opens up to ideas not coming from your normal train of thought and reveals what you were in search of. I thought intensely about the axiomatic fear people have for me just for being a black man. Much of my behavior is based on it not because I fear police or dangerous incidents with random white people, but because my empathy makes me not want to cause anyone to feel fear. I don’t like fear so if society has made me a feared person I will do what I can to counter that unwarranted image. If I’m walking towards a white woman, or any person, at first eye contact I smile and nod downward. I do the same with white men on a per-case basis because many derive their sense-of-self based on their relation to black men. If they appear this way I leave my temperament in question. 90% of the time white people get a smile and a nod, many undeservingly. I didn’t consciously create this method, rather, based on experience, my subconscious adapted to this unfair American racial truth by using body language to say, “Don’t worry. I know I’m black but I’m not one of the bad ones.” I subconsciously designed my behavior around mitigating the fear my presence causes.
Then I thought about it. White men fight for the exact same deadly burden we black men cannot shed in this country. They WANT to be feared. They fight to be regarded by the public as the exact same person that gets us executed without warrant; a deadly threat. Organizations like the NRA exist to preserve and expand gun rights for white men. These gun rights organizations’ disproportionate responses to various incidents of gun use by black people versus white people prove that the black faces amongst their ranks are incidental. The NRA fights for, amongst other things, gun ownership expansion and concealed carrying rights, two causes that for black men increase the probability of police killing them. They want to expand the ability of American citizens to be seen as potentially deadly and seek for the public to look at them and wonder if they are carrying guns. This is dumbfounding to me in this day and age because whenever I encounter police the last thing I want anyone thinking is that I possess a weapon; them thinking I have a gun would erase my accomplishments and make me, in the public’s eye, the guy who behaved wrong or possessed the wrong item. I would no longer be the guy from South Central, Los Angeles, who lived the South Central lifestyle and not only made it out, but became exceptional travelling the world, speaking multiple languages and developing a brand new philosophy that will expand the human perspective and hopefully inoculate us from division and enable us to cooperate better. NRA members want those entering their homes to know that they can kill them as a consequence of entering or remaining inside without permission. Coincidentally, police kill black people in their homes for the same thing. For a person with black skin to be regarded in the exact way NRA members fight to be viewed means state sanctioned execution. In fact, in many cases, the officers supply the guns that elevate black men from being regarded by them as a physical danger to a deadly threat. Wanting to be perceived as inherent deadly is white privilege.
What a privilege it is to feel so comfortable in your country that you don’t see a downside to lobbying for a more fearful image. White men seeking to be perceived as more deadly is like black people campaigning for a ban on sunblock; it’s a slap in the face to anyone suffering from the status quo. Here we black men are trying to shed public perceptions of being inherently dangerous so we can better connect with our countrymen and white men are striving to be seen as more deadly through quests for expanded gun rights and concealed carry.
The fight to optimize the lethality of white men’s image isn’t some sadistic quest to be seen as monsters, rather it is simply what a humans do in a social model driven by division and competition; being perceived as deadly could deter adversaries from harming you and your family. One mustn’t look further than the 1980s for a contemporary example of Americans doing just this. The black “gangsta” image arose in black neighborhoods due to the scarcity created by America’s economic failure then satisfied by a CIA permitted drug trade. The American government turning a blind eye to Nicaraguans filling the economic vacuum drove black people to create social roles that organized the sudden flow of new economic resources. They designed these roles as means to an end; appearing to be a deadly street thug in the 80s meant the same intimidation and deterrence as the Europeans being seen by Native Americans as heartless torturers and cold-blooded killers.
The point is this: America is so segregated and rigged for white males’ advantage that random white people driving down the street can’t recognize that I am a mindful and compassionate human more likely to risk my life to save theirs than to hurt them. In the meantime, people like them lobby to make themselves more like what they think I am so they can intimidate me. This is nuts and it’s a symptom of a divided and rigged society devised to prioritize certain people over others. America won’t survive like this and honestly, China is a lot more united than us. If the selfish quest to be feared more continues and isn’t converted into an all-hands-on-deck effort to unify mainly black and white people so we can concentrate our labor towards self sufficiency, China will own us within 50 years. While we are preoccupied with race and locking our doors in fear of racial retribution, the Chinese are in lock-step, delivering low-cost goods at prices so low that they’re still competitive after the cost of shipping them 22,000 miles to the US. We could be instantly thrown into chaos simply by their raising prices or cutting us off. Without unity and a real frank conversation on race in America where black people can speak unapologetically without coddling white sensitivities, we are doomed. Let’s get this conversation started and get it over with so random white people driving don’t feel fear at the sight of a black man.