In March of 2010 I posted a piece entitled Walking While Black on the site We Are The Real Deal. Considering the events of this weekend, with the unjust Zimmerman Not Guilty verdict, I thought it made sense for me to repost that bog here. Why? Because it articulates the agony I am feeling for my son and all of the sons in America who, like Trayvon, live every day with a target on their backs just because they are black.
I was sitting in the Richland Center in Chinatown today. I was looking out the window, trying to make eye contact with members of my community. I was hoping they would trust my non-Chinese face enough to come in and ask the questions they may have about the Census. Then I saw some undercover police officers stop two young black males who were walking near the parking lot right across the street from me. Now admittedly, I couldn’t hear anything they were saying. And I wasn’t privy to any radio bulletins that might have gone out to police in the area. There may well have been a very good reason for these young men to be stopped. But the body language of all four individuals remained relatively casual throughout the interaction. In fact, what struck me most was how comfortable, or should I say familiar, the young black males in particular were with this procedure. The young men immediately placed their hands palms down on the hood of the car. They stood facing the vehicle with their legs spread apart. Just ready. The officers searched them, taking the familiar white ipod headphones out of one young mans’ ears. Unzipping his jacket. Emptying his pockets. Removing his ID from his wallet. All for what? Like I said, I don’t really know. However, the boys were released without incident, after the police officers ran their names, and issued them some sort of receipt I think. The whole episode took about 15 minutes. Simple right? No harm, no foul. Right? I don’t know.
Having lived in this neighborhood for the last 8 years I am painfully aware that “walking while black” can be seen as a cause for alarm. Even though my son is only just turning 12, and has lived here since he was small, he’s now 5’ 9 1/2” and people are looking at him differently. When he and his best friend, (who is 13, 6ft tall, and a few shades darker than my son), walk around the neighborhood I see some residents switch sides of the street, or clutch their pocket books a little tighter. Since these two boys have had their meteoric growth spurts in less than a year our neighbors don’t seem to recognize them as the little boys who have spent most of their lives walking around this community. Their community, Chinese or not.
As I watched the officers drive away, and the two young men walk in the opposite direction, I got a pit in my stomach. Was this a foreshadow of things to come for my own child. Will he too become used to standing spread eagle in front of a police car as he is searched by an officer of the law? I’d like to think not, but my gut says something different. My gut says that my boy isn’t so little anymore, and I am not going to be able to protect him from the World’s unfair perceptions of him based on his height, his gate, and yes, his color.
My son is 6’5″ now at age 15, and soon he will be driving. The pit in my stomach has grown to a boulder in the last three years and threatens my breathing every time he walks out the door. We shouldn’t have to teach our black sons how not to get shot. They are 100% human and 5/5ths American. It’s time that we corrected our country’s math for good, don’t you think?
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