My four decades as a resident of the planet Earth has afforded me with a wealth of experiences – experiences that have forged the person that I am today and ideally it is these experiences that will serve to fuel my most tightly held aspiration to evolve and lay the foundation to be better than my past incarnations. This stands in stark contrast to many people who are content with just being – stationary.
Earlier this week I saw something on my social media timeline that gave me pause for its poignancy – it seemed to rise off the screen and smack me in the face, it said in paraphrase:
“Rather than saying that racism doesn’t exist, just say you don’t care. That is easier to respect, less insulting and more accurate.”
Many of my regular readers are well aware that I am a native son of Chicago and that the affinity for my hometown knows no bounds as it is the place where I came of age.
Sweet Home Chicago – that glorious stage where I performed my greatest act – growing from a boy to a man with that added burden of being a young Black man in the age of Reaganomics. Being successful in navigating the pitfalls of stereotypes, teachers that cheered for me to fail, peer pressure, gangs, the specter of drugs and the like… I rose above it all – going to college procuring multiple academic degrees against a backdrop of:
“No, can’t, maybe not and not likely.”
The love for my hometown is seen through a prism of an ugliness that is uniquely human –growing up on the Northwest side of the city, in a pocket neighborhood of WestTown called Noble Square. I’ve been a walking contradiction of sorts ever since I can remember – being on the receiving end of a plethora of insults and queries that made me question my place in the world was instructive – racism was always omnipresent.
The benefit of being of called everything except for a child of God has its advantages – the pain that used to be its calling card – eventually mutates into a “shield” of jaded indifference that it is impenetrable to all projectiles from the social order. It was the development and my subsequent utilization of this “shield” that allowed me to soldier on, but that doesn’t mean that the assaults have acquiesced.
The most recent assault on the “shield” took place yesterday as I left from a corporate event with a couple of my colleagues – our trio was comprised of myself, a woman, and another man. We were remarkably unremarkable, if one was to tender a quick glance we were all clad in professional garb, overcoats to account for the frigid temperatures, dress boots, shirt, ties and gloves – standard corporate attire and the 3 of us just happened to be “Black”.
If one could dig deeper between the 3 of us there was a total of 6 degrees, we unquestionably looked the part of professionals or to paraphrase a line that then Senator Joe Biden was pilloried for in 2007:
“we were articulate and bright and clean and nice-looking – that’s storybook man!”
We were walking our female colleague back to her car, because chivalry is alive and well, but so are the unhinged and dangerous types that frequent the streets of Baltimore and cities around the country for that matter. We stood outside her car engaged in a lively 20 – 25 minute conversation that belied the cold temperatures, we were debating the feasibility of grabbing a bite to eat in the area.
While we were narrowing down the restaurants that we could make a sojourn to – I opted to step back into the venue that we left to use the restroom.
When I came back out, I saw my colleagues out in the distance, there was a pick-up truck behind them, I casually made an assumption that a driver was jockeying for her parking space. When I got into earshot my female colleague said rather incredulously:
“Shun, you’ll never guess what’s happening?”
“What?” I queried.
“Someone called the police and filed a report of “2 large black men” cornering a Hispanic woman in front of her car.”
I immediately erupted in laughter (an Eddie Murphy cackle of sorts).
“No, Shun seriously…”
The 3 of us shared a glance of unmitigated gall, tinged with bewilderment.
My “shield” immediately powered up and was humming at maximum efficiency.
There was a total of 4 police officers at the scene, all of them looking rather sheepish at the call that they had to field. In reading the call back to us the gravity of it all began to soak in – “we were the 2 large black guys cornering the “Hispanic”woman.
Interestingly enough they asked for our identification, a request that we all compiled with in lieu of the sheer comedy of it all. We conversed with them for about 10 minutes before they left – and with their departure, our appetites absconded as well and we went our separate ways home.
As I walked the 2 blocks back to my car I combed through my thoughts realizing that I wasn’t much different from my past incarnation – that young boy in Chicago, whose very visage always seemed to be interpreted as a threat to the order of things.
My multiple degrees, suits, those mirror polished shoes and boots, my seamless coordination of my glasses with my ties, adeptness with the spoken word matters none.
Because those who aren’t enlightened can only see me and many that look like me – as a caricature of their ignorance and myopic vision – a large Black guy, even though I’m only 5’10 and some change – 180 some odd pounds. In short – I am a “thug” that ugly connotation that is synonymous with a word just as sinister.
At this juncture my “shield” ebbed to 72.3% of operating efficiency, but I recalled the words of my Grandmother who always told me and reminds me to this day:
“Son you’ve got to have enough sense for yourself and these bums out here too.”
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