A few days ago, before I stood, before I opened my right eye, before I checked to see if the sun made it through the clouds and blinds, a man on my Instagram screamed, “shame on you!” He’s disappointed in me for using my “platform to talk about racism when there are more important things to talk about.” I’m from Charlottesville, Virginia. Even Detroit has klan rallies, I learned as a kid when visiting Belle Isle. I became a man in Daytona Beach and I fell in love in Johannesburg. If he’d been with me in either of these places or if his eyes were open to the actual world beyond his comforts, he’d see racism is one of the important things.
Luckily, my cousin married a woman who can’t fathom racism happening to Black people over for no reason at all. “Luckily” because she’s proof that to many, racism is dead or sometimes warranted. Without meeting her and people like her on this journey, I’d probably overextend myself searching for ways to convince those who tell me my story can’t be true that it is — that people really do wake up and ask themselves, “how can I be racist today?” Because he married her and brought her into a family that loves debate, I know closed minds like hers can’t be changed. I’d rather not try. Lucky us.
It’s been a week. I feel so naked most days. I don’t read comments or responses, though I’m told many are people with stories just like mine. I know stuffed between those, however, are the others — those who excuse it, those who don’t see it, and those who have to deny it was racist because if that was racist, then what they did at some time or another was too. It’s those people I’ve grown wary of. They are real people and probably sit behind me in coffeeshops while I write and stand behind me in restroom lines, wanting to tap me on the shoulder and give me a piece of their mind. I’m on edge most of the day. I flew back into LAX a few days ago with shallow breaths.
I get angrier and angrier when I think about the kindness that could have been shown in the airport that day, but wasn’t. When I think about how I sat there, nearly in tears, sinking deeper into helplessness, I get even more pissed knowing there are people who are capable of taking me to that place when I’ve done so much work to never go back there. There was a boy in Daytona who called me “nigger” in a parking lot after I went to pull him out of a fight he was about to lose. There was the boy in Virginia who called me the same at a 711 in Alexandria after I asked if his previous racist remarks were aimed at me and my friends. There were the Charlottesville officers who stopped me week after week to check the serial number on my nice bike when I rode too close to the university and the Daytona officers who held me and Nancy at gunpoint because “someone pointed at your car and said you stole it,” then later changed their story to avoid trouble. There was the Harley Davidson story owner who kicked us out of his store and the Neo-nazis who shouted obscenities at us when we were making our way to Checkers for a burger and they didn’t get the memo that the festival they were in town for was moved to Jacksonville that year.
When you report racism, everything that happens after reminds you of everything that’s happened before and you have to sit in it.
An overall rule in the African diaspora is “just don’t play me, assume I’m a chump, and make me look stupid.” How dare another racist look at me and think, “he’s one I can do this to.” I strongly believe that by the time they practice their racism on me, they’ve already done it on so many others and got away with it. It’s in how smooth it’s executed. It’s in the smile and response from them. Last monday, it was in the “Ooh, can’t wait to read your complaint,” he said with a smile. In that response, I could hear the pain of the others he’d treated like he treated me. I could hear those investigating replying to those victims with, “he was just doing his job.” Did he admit it was racism to them, too, and nothing was done about it then?
“You’re lucky you have video of some of it,” someone said. I hate that I needed the video for it all to be considered. I hate so that so many became too paralyzed by anger that they couldn’t pull their phones out and therefore simply weren’t believed because of it. They’ll replay that moment over and over in their heads and it’ll be as clear as any video they could have taken.
I hate that I have so many questions. What happens? How many people has this happened to by other personnel? What happened to those victims and those employees? Why does the investigation take so long? Do I keep my expectations as low as I keep them when grand juries are trying to figure out what to do about clearly racist cops? How long did it take me to get over the last similar incident? Whatever happened to those CVS employees I reported to my grandma when I was 10-years-old and they followed me around the store when I was just trying to find gum? Am I over it now? Am I over any of it? How has it impacted how I see the world? What ever happened to Officer Darren Santiago after he put that gun to Nancy’s head for no reason at all? Then, I should probably find a therapist today.
I still believe most of the world is good. I still believe in people. For a while, though, I’ll be skeptical and I don’t like that.
To the man who went out of his way to find my instagram account and screamed shame on me for talking about racism on my page and platform when he felt other things should have my attention: I create media and most of it these days is for children. I will always use my platform to call out wrongdoings in hopes that it — and excuse the cliché — makes the world a better place for those kids who we must not rush to become adults. I have a son I beg the world to treat as their own when they see him. I can’t say I want a cleaner world and simultaneously ignore or refuse to pick up the trash I see. I learned that in Charlottesville and Daytona and Johannesburg and New York and at LAX and my platform is here to show those kids and those grownups that speaking out can be difficult, but it is necessary. Anxiety-inducing, but necessary. Isolating, but necessary. They are necessary.
I reported racism and found I was not alone. If you are reading this, you are not alone. Take a breath and know you are not alone.
Update as of 12.19: I am waiting for Delta to complete their investigation and reach out to me with their findings.