Monday, March 26, 2012

Trayvon Martin and Walking While Black

Keep moving. 

Don't stop. 

Don't make eye contact. 

I have felt like Trayvon Martin. Many many times while walking at night, being pulled over by police, being told that I'm not supposed to 'be.' My 'being' in a space has caused questions, concerns, suspicions. In the back of my mind I always wondered if there would be a reckoning. If my 'being' would become so intolerable to someone that they would try to end my existence, rather than engage in a conversation.  The only difference between me and Trayvon is that I am still here and he is not.  Still, the question lurks around the subconscious when I walk home every night from the subway and a police car slows down alongside me. The squad car slows down. Eyeballs examine my 'being' noticing any signs of anger, insanity, guilt. I continue walking, pretending to be oblivious. In most cases this is the best sign of innocence: by pretending to not notice.

Unlike myself, Trayvon physically noticed the accusation. He noticed the suspicion and dared to walk toward it. Stare at it, as he spoke with his girlfriend over the phone. Curious, as to who could be staring at him so intently he took a step in Zimmerman's direction. Staring directly at George Zimmerman before quickly walking away.

When I am walking in strange or dark surroundings I try to keep it moving. No time to stop. I hear my parents' voice of survival.

You don't know where this person is coming from.

You don't know what they want or what they're trying to get.

They could be trying to get into a fight. They could be trying to rob you. It could be a trap.

Keep it moving. 

 A few years ago I was headed home from the library. Two figures came out of a building and began pursuing me. From the corner of my eye, I saw that they were two tall football-muscular men in their 20s. They happened to be White. I keep my eyes on the path. They seemed to be trying to catch me.

I flipped up my collar and continued walking briskly. One of the men came alongside me.

Dude, do you have a lighter?

No, I don't smoke.

Stupid nigger.

I continued walking very quickly. This felt like a trap of some sort. I was supposed to react to it. Turn around and get in a fight with two bigger stronger men who seemed worked up about something. I was supposed to turn and scream 'murder' or swing at one of them. I was supposed to react and give them something. I picked up my pace and kept walking. I made sure not to run, but I never made eye contact. The goal was to get home. I was not going to be swayed by a 'word' that was intended to arouse my rage. 

The two men eventually trailed off, seeing that I was unwilling to take the bait. Perhaps they found a Mexican, Asian, or another Black man that night. I wasn't going to be 'their one.'

On another occasion a cab driver seemed to go out of his way just so he could spit on my path and give me a murderous look. I was walking down the street carrying my airport luggage.

I could name other incidents of walking while Black: the police slow-downs, pull-overs, suspicious looks. It's all the same because my reaction has to be measured and numb. I pretend not to notice and keep eyes fixed straight ahead.  Hands out of pockets and swinging along my side. Maybe I'll start singing. A guilty man wouldn't sing, would he?

More and more the last few years when I find myself WWB, a sad smile comes across my face.After all these years, you're still looking for that sign of suspicion. It's not here. I'm innocent. There is nothing wrong with me. I'm just a Black man out for a walk.

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