the Change I Wish to See

...and whatever else it takes to find my pants

And I'm entering the front door of my building which, it's relevant to mention, is listed as one of Washington's "Best Addresses." I walk in right behind a woman in a red gown; she's late 20s, white, my height in heels. We head in the same direction, the stairs rather than the elevator; apparently she also lives on the second floor. She at one point moves toward the mailroom and it reminds me, since I can never remember when the mail gets here, that I hadn't gotten mine. As I move to the mailroom, she moves away towards the front desk where the security guard is. I check my mailbox, close it quite audibly, though unintentionally (this is important because it establishes that I have a key). When I come out, they both turn to me and the guard asks if I live in the building - needs the room number, last name, etc. I ask if there's a problem. He says there isn't, there's just been a bunch of people coming in the building "confused" that night. She says there isn't; that she's just checking to see if she has packages. Packages. Nearly 3 am on a Saturday, in a gown, she's checking all of a sudden for packages that didn't seem so pertinent 4 minutes ago. It also seems odd that her reply to my inquiry comes first sequentially. So before the guard even offers his "there are people who keep keying themselves in to a building they don't live in" explanation, she found it necessary to explain herself. Also seems odd since in two months I've never seen a security guard access the package room for anyone in the middle of the night. Seems the role of contracted security guard wouldn't include mail management and distribution, especially at 3 am.

I suppose it was bound to happen. I suppose there's a certain inevitability to being black and suspicious. Truth is, I don't know, and won't presume for the sake of argument to know, what the foundations for her perceptions may have been. So, I suppose, all else assumed constant, that had I not been black everything may have transpired exactly as it did. Yet, my concern is as much human as racial. I've never even thrown a punch. So the idea that someone is afraid of me shakes me to the core. We've all been through the drama in numerous situations. Stores are infamous looking glasses into the classism festering in soccer moms: "Where are your...?" questions are great when I'm wearing a green shirt and shorts in a Staples. And I can also now say that what happened early this morning is nothing like a store owner following you around the store. What happened this morning was much more debilitating: someone thought, for whatever reason or motivation, that I intended to commit a crime against her person.

My rage was quickly overcome by numbing inadequacy and shame. For all of you who think you're the type of person who doesn't care what people think of you, wait until someone thinks you're a monster. Wait until you see it in their eyes. Though I hope you never do, because I feel like her whispered allegation is tatooed on my forehead. And I wonder if all the tears I've cried today, and will tomorrow, could ever wash it away.

What a funny mirror, this thing called skin.

P.S. Got upstairs and realized after all this that there was almost an entire dog turd stuck to the bottom of my shoe.


L. Aubry said...

Heavy Brad. You know, I have--over a long period of time--come to the tentative conclusion that for some white people (perhaps many, possibly all), their racial identity is a debilitating disease rendered harmless because it has become so natural to our society. This truly is a tragedy which needs rectifying. To a certain degree, James Baldwin was quite on point when he commented on this very idea: "So long as you think your white, there is no hope for you."

aijuswanawrite said...

Hope can't be lost. Not unless we let it. So hopefully Baldwin was justifiably frustrated but wrong. Because if the racial majority of this country is entirely hopeless, none of us have a chance. We are all simply too integral for the answer to be anything but the same. I was just as hurt that she was afraid of me that night as I was that someone else taught her to fear me.

Thank you for commenting, though. Means a lot.

Nina said...

I can't imagine what it is like to be a black man.

I can't imagine what it is like to be a white woman and to be told to fear black men.

I am not fearful of men, but cautious of what can happen to me at night while walking in the streets. That cautiousness has led me to self-defense classes and checking prices on tasers and sprays. Fear is a curious thing.

I'm sorry this happened to you. I wish it would not happen to my brothers or future sons. When do you think the cycle will end?

f.B said...

first of all: so sorry for the font color (that decision was made before the new blog format)

but the cycle only ends when we commit to starting a new one. a new affirmative cycle that men of color are generally good people, too. not just the current campaign seeking to negate that we're monsters.

i also want to reiterate that it may not have been about color. it may just have been about sex, that i was male and she was female. so we have to work on sexual violence more generally, as well