My Brief Glimpse Into Being Black

My Brief Glimpse Into Being Black December 18, 2023

Being Black

Believe it or not, this is the fourth iteration of this article. I have gone back and forth as to whether or not to publish this. But as I have been reflecting on this experience, I feel more and more convinced that I must.

I always thought to some extent I could imagine how horrible it must be to be a targeted minority in this country. Sure I have been pulled over before, so I can imagine what it must be like to be pulled over often. Sure, I have been followed in stores as a little thug teen so I have some idea as to what that must be like when it happens often. So on and so on…

I was wrong.

Sure, I may know what it is like to be pulled over, but not when I have done nothing wrong. Sure, I know what it is like to be followed in a store, but it’s because I was probably about the steal something.

I think this is how many white folks think about racism in this country. I know I did.

When these things happen ongoing and the person has done nothing to deserve the unwanted attention simply because they exist a certain way – that is a different kind of thing.

I am under no illusion that I understand the black and brown experience. I hope this article doesn’t imply that. In fact, let me preempt many of your thoughts. Yes, I am a middle-class middle-aged lilly-white privileged male. Aww, poor me. There, are we good?


The Incident

A few weeks ago, I stopped into my favorite café. It had been a couple of years since I stopped in because we had moved out of that area about 2 years ago. However, my daughter does gymnastics in the area so I thought I would stop into the café to work and write as had been my custom a few years prior.

I am a professional web developer by trade so I can work anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection. In fact, I had spent so much time at this café that I wrote my entire book, UNenlightenment there – sometimes even spending up to 8 hours a day. At some point, I even began interacting with their district manager. All of that to say I used to spend a lot of time (and money) there.

As I walked into the small-town café I was greeted with familiar smells and sounds. The smell of fresh ground coffee was accompanied by sounds of music and the loud whirring of the espresso machine. A flood of memories came rushing back to me.

As I looked around, I did not see any familiar faces. What I did see was a young girl (around 18) peeking her head around the espresso machine several times to get a look at who was coming in. The girl had a very strange look on her face. Her eyes got big and she could not retrieve her gaze from me. It was so strange in fact, when I got to the counter, I made the following statement:

“Excuse me, I could not help but notice that you were looking at me strangely, is everything okay?”

She shook her head as though she were coming out of a trance and said,

“Of course…yes…sorry what can I get for you?”

But then she quickly returned to her uncomfortable gaze. I looked away from the menu to say

“I need a few minutes”.

Then her manager came to relieve her saying,

“You can go into the back, I got this,”

I ordered, stayed about 25 minutes, and then left.

I did not think much of the encounter until I returned two days later, all for the same reasons as mentioned before. However, this time I planned on staying several hours so that I could work. I approached the counter and encountered a new employee. I placed my order, found my seat, and began to get my computer equipment out. As I began setting up my equipment, I noticed the young girl from the other day come out of the back room. We had no interaction, I just noticed her. I began working when I received a call from my work partner. While talking on the phone with him I noticed a police officer walk in the front door. I did not think twice about it as officers often frequent cafes. About five minutes later I noticed another officer walk in and did think that was a little strange. After about 10 minutes had passed both officers were standing at my table.

I asked my partner to briefly hold as I completely expected the officer to ask if I had seen someone who had committed a crime in the area. Instead, I was met with a type of condescending kindness:

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave sir”.

I set my phone down utterly confused,

“Um, excuse me.”

The officer continued,

“Yes, the employees here have asked that you leave because you make them feel uncomfortable.”

Still dumbfounded I was convinced that they had made a mistake. I assured them that I had not done anything but sat down, made a phone call, and began to eat my sandwich. The officer continued,

“It does not matter, this is a private business, which means if you make them feel uncomfortable and they want you to leave, then you have to. So please pack up your things.”

It was at this point where people in the café began to stare. I slowly began packing up my stuff, I was rapidly processing the incident in my brain. Everything around me was moving slowly as I was deep in thought. Both officers stood there with arms crossed trying to look intimidating while at the same time trying to make small talk with me.

By the way, when officers engage in small talk, they are not trying to be friendly they are trying to get information from you. Since I was not cooperating with the small talk they simply asked for my identification, which I kindly declined to give them. They inquired into why not and I simply stated that I don’t have to give them my identification (Note: This law varies from state to state).

I finished packing my things and began walking out of the cafe. As the officers were escorting me out of the café everyone stared and looked at me as though something were wrong with me. As I pulled away, I glanced back in the mirror and watched the officers as they continued to glare my direction until I drove out of their sight.


On Being Profiled?

You might be wondering why I was profiled. Outside of my self-proclaimed smoldering good looks and likable personality, I am also a white, middle-aged man. Although I am these things, I also have an imposing presence. Add various tattoos and a skull cap and I can certainly make someone feel uncomfortable.

That of course does not give anyone the right to kick me out of a business. Their uncomfortableness is not my issue, it is theirs. Despite the fact that a few weeks have gone by the whole incident still percolates in my mind.

Anger: It is so offensive to think that some privileged white girl in an affluent community has the right to judge me and deny me a basic service that everyone else can enjoy unobstructed simply because of my appearance. The fact that this young girl has that kind of power over me produces an anger inside of me that I cannot describe.

Embarrassment: I can’t shake the embarrassment I felt being led out of the café by police like a common criminal even though I did absolutely nothing wrong. On top of this, I can never go back to that cafe again.

Powerlessness: It’s frustrating to be treated by police like you are a child who just got caught with your hand in the cookie jar. Officers whose every word drips with condescension and who seem to be enjoying their power over you just a little too much results in a feeling of utter powerlessness.

Trauma: Although not to the extent that my black and brown friends experience this, I have been traumatized by this experience. Even though I am someone who doesn’t normally care what people think of me, that always comes from a place of power and privilege. I can’t get the experience out of my mind. Now, anytime I pass a young woman I am thinking about things I must do to avoid her attention so I don’t scare her. I am avoiding eye contact with people now. There are numerous ways this is affecting me that I never knew would be an issue.


Concluding Thoughts

I want to be clear that I am in no way claiming to now understand the black experience. Far from it. However, I experienced a taste and it will remain a part of me. What I experienced happens to black and brown Americans every day in this country. Obviously, as we have seen over the years, their experience is much worse. I never once feared for my life. I never felt like I had to watch every word I said when speaking with the police. In fact, I was even sarcastic with them a time or two. But across this country many black and brown folks do. Mothers grow weary worrying over whether or not their sons are going to come home from school or the park. Black men have to constantly be aware of every little thing they do when driving so they don’t get pulled over. Their fear is something I will never be able to experience.

I don’t know what it is like to live in a world where what I take for granted every day could get another person killed simply because of the way God made them. Even in my situation, I chose to have tattoos; I chose to dress a certain way. Others…well, they just want to be able to go to the store without being stared at; or take a drive without wondering whether or not they will come home. I wish some of my white friends understood this. I know I do.

You can view my UNenlightenment YouTube Channel HERE
You can view my  UNenlightenment Podcast HERE
You can follow me on FaceBook HERE

You can purchase the book UNenlightenment HERE.

About Eric English
Eric is a rogue philosopher, theologian, author, podcaster and ninja. He is a father of three, husband of one, and a poet unto himself. Eric’s main areas of thinking are in philosophy (specifically, Soren Kierkegaard), theology (Narrative Perspectivism), and culture. Eric also hosts the podcast UNenlightenment.  You can read more about the author here.
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