28. Have you ever fit the description?

Posted: June 24, 2009 in African American, Black Pride, family
Tags: , , , ,

fathersfootprintsThose of you who are faithful readers know that occassionally we feature guest columnists.  The following is from the archives of Tony Fleming.

They hit the door locks at a traffic stop. They clutch a purse in an elevator. They follow you in a store. Why? Because you fit the description, that’s why.  Even in 2009, brothers can’t catch a break. The recent false claim of kidnapping by a lady in Pennsylvania illustrates that the more things change, the more they stay the same. She told the 911 operator that she and her daughter were abducted by two black men and were in the trunk of their car. I applaud the authorities for their initial skepticism and quick work to resolve this case but the question remains; why are there some folks out there that STILL think everyone will fall for “the brother(s) did it!”? And what were the local brothers thinking now that they were all suspects? And finally, how do brothers deal with it?       untitled

A couple of years ago, my best friend brought his teenage son Ryan to visit for Thanksgiving. I don’t live in the most progressive city for race relations, but we protect our children as much as possible from even the hint of racism and generally get along pretty well. When Ryan grew tired of listening to the endless stories his father and I were telling about growing up together, he decided to take a walk outside. No problem on the surface, but we quickly brought him up to speed about just walking around my neighborhood.  My street at the time was probably 70/30 majority minority and my neighbors are good people. But the sight of the unfamiliar, 17 year old Ryan walking down the street in the dark, hood on his head and jeans sagging could be a shock to the system for some of the neighbors.

I learned the hard way when I was fifteen; the Detroit Police accosted me in my own home. There had been some burglaries in the neighborhood that summer and one of the neighbors didn’t recognize me as I entered the house upon returning from summer school. The police entered the house with guns drawn as I watched TV and asked what I was doing there. With no real identification, I thought for sure they would recognize my crooked toothed smile on one of the many pictures on the shelf, but it took another neighbor to identify me by name to bring the incident to a close. At the time, the incident scared me to death; the police were wrong. But now as a homeowner that has been burglarized, I can at least appreciate the concerned if not misguided vigilance of a neighbor. Here comes that d*mn Hybrid Negro again. [see: https://fathersfootprints.wordpress.com/2009/05/19/the-weight-of-being-a-hybrid-negro/]

Ryan was in teenager mode and tuning out his dad, so I talked with him about some realities for all brothers, but young ones in particular. Almost all of us have a story like the one above. Where are you going? Which house are you visiting? Who is the owner? If one of my neighbors had panicked and called the police, those are the questions he would be asked. Under the pressure, could he have answered correctly? If he couldn’t, he gets a free ride to the precinct, and a re-enforced negative stereotype about the police. My conversation was not about changing the way he was dressed or guaranteeing police harassment as much as the way he and his style are perceived.  You can be yourself and be aware of your surroundings at the same time. You don’t have to fear the police but you do have to respect them and realize that the best thing to do is be polite but confident and hope that the officer is having a good day.

I hope that by the time my four year old son needs this advice, it will no longer be necessary to give it. I wonder if my majority neighbor is going to have the same conversation with his son?

Tony is a microcomputer analyst and sports radio announcer; both at Alabama State University.  He is married to Tammy and they have two children.

Until next time,

Damon signature

  1. Lisa says:

    The police entered his house with guns drawn?! I’ve heard some stories but that takes the cake. I hope along with Tony that when his four year old is Ryan’s age, he won’t need that advice. I remember my Dad and Mom discussing the conversations the seeming majority had with their kids. They definitely had a difference of opinion here. Maybe it’s because my Dad had experiences that were vastly different from hers and she just didn’t understand.

    I dream a world where this conversation is a thing of the past and children don’t believe it was ever an issue. It is possible to evolve to that state of awareness, all we need are people who are ready, willing and make it happen~

  2. Javier says:

    Hispanics get the same treatments as blacks. Maybe, even worse.

  3. ryman123 says:

    I remeber that it was a while ago

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