I had a first experience that was just like that.
During my preteen years, I lived in an ethically diverse neighborhood in Jersey City, NJ. One day on the way home from playing in the park with my friends, I decided to stop at the local corner store to buy some snacks. I walked in, greeted the clerk at counter and went to the other side of the store where all the junk food was. I searched for a while, brought my snacks to the clerk and paid for them.
After paying, I turned to walk out, but before I could, the clerk came from behind to cash register to block my path and demanded that return what I stole. Dumbfounded, I insisted that I didn’t steal anything. He balked at my claims and told me to put my hands on the counter. My heart was racing with fear, but eager to prove to the clerk that I was innocent, I complied. That's when he began searching my pockets and shirtsleeves for the “contraband" that I supposedly had on me. He was unable to find any and he eventually let me go, but not before saying to me, “I couldn’t find it, but I know you stole something. If you ever come back here again, I’ll call the police!”
I remember walking home after that, my hands were trembling with anger and confusion. The taste of my tears as they rolled down my cheeks made the experience even more bitter for me.
And that's how I was racially profiled for the first time.
Despite it being my first, strangely enough, it wasn't a foreign concept to me. Even at that early age, I already had an acute awareness of what it means to grow up Black in America. All my life, I've been educated about the struggles our people endured over the centuries and accepted what happened to me simply as a self-evident truth of being born with a skin color such a mine. I knew it was wrong, I knew it wasn't fair, but I understood that there were people in the world that were going to judge me on things that had nothing to do with the content of my character. You simply do your best to not let it bother you, push forward and thrive in spite of those obstacles.
So when I got home and my dad asked me how my day was, I told him it was fine and went to my room. I never said anything about it because I thought, what's the point? Racial profiling has been going on long before me and telling someone about it isn't going to change anything.
That's probably why I never spoke about the instances that occurred later in my life. I never talked to anyone about the times when walking home from school, police cruisers would pull up beside me inquire about my whereabouts. I also never told about the countless times I would walk into a store about would be followed or the white women who would clutch their purses and sometimes even move across the street as I walked towards them from the opposite direction. Did it hurt? Of course. Should I have told someone? Probably. But hey, that's just a reality that is routine for someone who is guilty of LWB, or Living While Black. .
So when I read the story of Trayvon Christian, a young man who was racially profiled when he purchased an expensive belt from a high end department store, wrongly accused of fraud and subsequently arrested, I had mixed feelings about it. While I was both saddened and angered at the treatment of Mr. Christian at the hands of both Barneys and the NYPD, I was not in the least bit surprised. In our world, prejudice is the norm, rather than the exception. It is a existence that I’ve reluctantly accepted from the time that I was that little boy being patted down in a corner store. However, the fact that Mr. Christian is fighting back, coupled with the large amount of media attention this incident is getting, is encouraging. When he was released from custody he could have easily remained silent and written off what happened as part of the territory of being a minority. But his reaction is an indicator of the times. The only way to combat racial profiling is to not remain silent and be unafraid to speak out against these injustices. Mr. Christian’s actions, however small they might be, gives me hope. Hope for a future where my children can walk in a store and the worker sees only one thing: a customer.
Wouldn't that be nice?
Wouldn't that be nice?