I'm too old for this. If I hit this guy they’re going to blame me.
Minus the expletives, those were the thoughts that snapped through my mind two — maybe three — years ago.
The white guy, in his 50s or 60s, had grabbed my throat, started to squeeze. He did not like the way I was driving through a hotel parking lot. He reeked of booze and his words were lazy and stumbled into each other. He was a big boy. A grown man, actuallly. And he wanted a fight. No, he wanted to choke me.
After I knocked his hand away he got on a cell phone. Said he called the police. I heard him say I had attacked him and I was reaching into my car and he was scared. He didn’t know if I had a gun. It wasn’t a gun I was retrieving. It was a cellphone.
I’m all too aware of my appearance. Of my color and the color of others. I have not worked out yet if I am racist, biggoted, paranoid or like everyone else.
But my awareness told me, they’ll take his word over yours. Unless you have proof. Unless you show them that he was lying. That you weren’t violent.
I don’t know if that assessment is fair. Upon reflection I know it is rooted, in part, on my experience and the experience of others who sound or look like me — brown, dark hair, dark eyes.
I know, too, it has been molded by my past encounters with police. When they stopped me in nice (predominantly white) neighborhoods because they received a call about suspicious activity. Or when a store clerk grabbed my young arm and forced me to empty my pockets because he "knew" I stole something. My conclusion is drawn because more often than not I hear and read similar stories from people who bear a resemblance to me. And, of course, in this day and age on the Internet people feel free to express how they really feel about people who don’t look like them.
Don’t be stupid. I’m not saying police are racist or that all white men are bullies. (If I had friends, I’m sure some of my best ones would be white.) To be sure, I’ve had my run-ins with ugly, unpleasant people who are just as pigmented as I. And I also know that class or perceived wealth has a role in how people respond to one another.
My point remains, however, that for me, and others like me, there remains a belief that in moments of conflict, in black (or brown) versus white, the white version of events carries more weight — miniscule as it may be — than the other.
All these thoughts come to mind when I hear people say they “don’t get” why people are demonstrating in Ferguson, Mo. They don’t undertand why people are supporting someone who went after a cop.
It goes beyond that.
When I hear the questions and the tone of what demonstrators are saying, I understand their frustration. I know the feeling of believeing that a white person’s story is more credible than someone who isn’t white. But, as I’ve said all along, I don’t know if that’s fair.