“Don’t be afraid of me because I’m black.”
You were aware that you were making me extremely uncomfortable. You even said it yourself. But because, in your mind, it was your skin color and not your actions that were to blame for my fear, you felt that this gave you the right to pursue a conversation with me as you continued to breathe down my neck for three long, dimly lit, semi-deserted streets.
Did it cross your mind that having a stranger proceed to follow you home, in the dark, when you’re by yourself, might cause more alarm to me than the color of your skin? Or that having someone walk behind you so closely that you can feel their breath as they tell you to “not be afraid” can be absolutely terrifying?
I’m scared of you for a laundry list of reasons, but none of them include what you check off under “race” on your census. I’m afraid of you because I am completely aware of the ways that you could harm me, and I know that regardless of how hard I fight you, as a man, you’re stronger and have the upper-hand. As you’re saying things in my ear and trying to talk me up, I’m taking note of how many people are on the street right now, and estimating how loud I’d have to yell for my scream to be in earshot of them if you try to pull something. I have one hand in my purse, fumbling around for something that I could use to defend myself. I’m thinking about the shoes I’m wearing, and if I’d be able to sprint away from you in these clumsy flip-flops. I’m wondering if taking my phone out and calling my roommate would be a smart decision — or if it would make you mad enough to snap.
But the one thing that I’m absolutely not focusing on right now is the fact that you’re black. Because danger doesn’t have a color — it has a feeling. Danger feels like a car suddenly stopping short in front of you, like a creak in your house when you know that no ones home, like an odd stranger asking you to help him with something in his trunk. Danger doesn’t look black or white — until it invades your space while you’re alone on an empty street.
How did we get to this place, where you believe that your actions are justified, and that mine are not, solely because of our contrasting colors? Would you have accepted my silence if our skin had looked the same?
I’m not afraid of you because you’re black. I’m scared of you — the person who is much larger than me, who has made a clear choice not to honor the fact that I’m not interested in speaking to you, or any stranger, when I’m walking home by myself. It has nothing to do with the color of your skin.