The Familiar Look of Racism

It starts with a look.

It’s a silent gaze that screams from yesteryear the same way its daddy and granddaddy screamed: What are you doing here? Where do you live? Why are you in my store? Doesn’t take much to recognize it. I’m watching you. The scream is voiceless but it is immediately understood. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. Hard to describe especially in the middle of knowing exactly what “the look” is really about and from whence it comes. It’s really undeniable. It truly is. It can be deadly. I’ve felt it too many times to count. The awareness of that scream envelopes me with a mix of anger, frustration, helplessness, and a few more ingredients that unless you’ve been the recipient of that discriminatory, racist stare, you will not understand. Not that I don’t want you to understand, it’s just that you won’t.

Jermaine Massey was kicked out of a DoubleTree Hotel in Portland, Oregon, this week after making a call in the hotel’s lobby. He was deemed a safety threat and accused of trespassing…in the hotel where he had a room…that he paid for…in the lobby that is open to guests…where guests are allowed to be. There’s got to be more to the story some might say. Oh, yes, indeed – there’s more to the story, alright. There’s a whole history lesson involved. But on the surface, nah. I know what it is. You do, too. His account of the incident reads like a familiar book to me.

I am a Black man in a world where Black men are feared. How does one describe what they know to be true and still convey that certitude to others who have not – indeed, have never – walked that same path? There is a quandary, of sorts, that takes place while attempting to navigate through the right colloquialisms in one’s bid to impart understanding. The difficulty lies in what people choose to hear coupled with their propensity to twist words around more than the inner workings of a ball of yarn in an effort to cater to a deep-seated denial. Add to that a spurious sense of insight into a societal corridor uncharted and one easily arrives at the intersection of refutation and reluctance. Some of you reading this article are white and scared. Some of you are not white but have assimilated into the comfortableness of whiteness and are also scared. Allow me to be perfectly frank. Your fears are hindering my life. A Black life is…different to you.

Let me put it another way…

If, for example, you are an architect, chances are you can appreciate the layout of an edifice more so than the average person who does not possess your knowledge of infrastructure. It is not just a building to you; it is art and you are Basquiat. Those ignorant of its beauty only view it as a place to enter its doors to conduct business but you…you understand the toil of creating the perfect blueprint with its lines ever so precise; its angles that somehow through the gift of imagination make an otherwise dull room inviting; that in reality it is a canvas literally standing three stories high – your canvas. *As the crescendo rises and the timpani intensifies* …your Wine of Babylon, your King Alphonso, your Untitled.

It’s precious. Now flip the script.

I don’t pretend to have a persuasive solution to this problem nor do I write this to paint a picture of despair. Far from it, in fact. I  unpretentiously wish to bring awareness to the racism that still endures in our world and call it for what it is:

If you watch the video of the encounter, you will notice the calmness in the brother’s voice as he records “Earl” the DoubleTree security guard of the world, Craig. And Massey knows. He knows that he is doing nothing wrong but he also knows the reality of the situation. His skin color is a hazard; a danger. Caution: Black man in the lobby. If he says what he is feeling in a way that could be interpreted as a threat, he plays into their hands. So he’s calm. But he’s still considered a harm to society like so many of us.

It’s being told to calm down when you’re being accused of something you didn’t do. It’s being told that you’re overreacting – that it’s not because your skin is Black – only to hear some scripted apology later on from corporate.

“I’m afraid to just do normal things now,” Mr. Massey said in an interview Friday, calling the encounter racial profiling. “I’m cautious about what I’m doing, and how people are perceiving that, and I shouldn’t have to think twice about where I take a phone call, or what part of the hotel I can visit.”

White privilege will tell you that oppression against Black people is non-violent; non-forceful. Even in the face of irrefutable evidence, being white ultimately prevails over anything else – and many times that’s all it takes in order to be considered right.

It fucks with you. It bothers you even after the situation goes down. It’s something that you don’t forget. This includes the lack of dignity shown; the lack of respect both from an inherent and substantive viewpoint in specific regard to Black male subjectivity. There are consequences that stem from these type of confrontations that can rightfully be considered a form of PTSD in the true definition of the term.

There are hardly any legitimate discussions, however, only virulent verdicts that have been predetermined exercising a deep-seated fear. That fear has roots that are buried beneath years of racist ideologies proudly manifesting themselves in the branches that spring from those roots. How often must we speak of implicit biases that permeate intransigent minds?

And yet I remember what I said earlier about that ball of yarn…

…simultaneously hoping Jermaine Massey sues the draws off those chuchamadres.

Fuck your apology.






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