Back when Yu Gi Oh cards and Final Fantasy 11 were life, Terrell and I took a short break from Ryan’s basement and jogged down to the basketball court a block away. Mayfair was the nice neighborhood then, where one could go to shovel snow in the winter because people there owned houses and would pay good money for weak minds and strong backs. Half a block into our run we came dangerously close to a white woman in her 20’s wearing a matching sweatsuit (this is before yoga pants were poppin). I hadn’t even noticed her (sans yoga pants), until Terrell started cracking up as we ran past her. She dove off the sidewalk with a ghastly expression on her face. The reaction was similar to when people see un-neutered male pitt bulls strolling around off leash.
“Haha, did you see her fucking face?” said Terrell.
She stared us down as we passed until we were a decent ways off, then she continued running. In the opposite direction. I laughed and Terrell and I made infinite jokes about what she must have been thinking about the two basement dwelling soft-core nerds who ran past her. Two ornery naggers assaulting her space in broad daylight. Certainly if she’d ever seen the news, there was an intractable belief that we were evil–violent rapists and “super predators.” This is way before America admitted to unarmed black kids being shot at more casually than a game of Duck Hunt, before Black Lives Matter, before the Charleston Church shooting (which was almost the 100th such shooting…) But that’s because, like Coates said, all of this is old to black people.
But I digress.
We were Black Men in Public Space after all, even though I hadn’t considered it at the time and that woman wasn’t my first or last victim. I had been largely optimistic, that is to say ignorant of more subtle racial tensions on a personal level until then because my life was surrounded primarily by brown faces and troubles of more immediate concern. My conversations about race up until then had simply been jokes or listening to white friends complain about how hard their lives were in spite of their being white (which still happens), but I never felt threatened by that. I never felt like having disagreements with friends–even about race matters–directly diminished my place in the world, plus I always thought they’d grow out of the constant need to be the societal centerpiece (like I said, optimistic). Clearly I was wrong, and often times their subconscious beliefs manifest themselves in infuriating ways. By that I mean our subconscious beliefs.
There have been numerous times growing up where I felt the need to apologize for black people. Without realization, I bought into the idea that everything black had to be exceptional or else. I never judged other races by this same standard but I had nothing but vitriol for other blacks whom I’d thought embarrassed me, or the race. Why must only blacks be judged by our most diabolical members?
I cared way too much about what white people thought. Sometimes I still do and I have to catch myself.
Years later, while helping me (I use that word loosely) move into my new apartment on Pennsylvania avenue, Terrell said something in the hallway that I later gave him shit for.
“Damn, this place is nice. Where all the white bitches at!?” he said.
Granted, it was a little too loud, and I can’t exactly defend it. The associations in his words were troubling; nice=white. Bitches=women. But they were not out of the ordinary, and he was clearly joking. Yet the disdain I felt for that little instance was completely out of proportion, which in retrospect, makes me feel a little nasty. What I should have done was introduce him to my new roommate, and left it at that.