Yesterday I was bicycling home from work. I commute from University of California Berkeley main campus to Albany, CA, using the Ohlone Bike Path. Near Ohlone park there are tennis courts for the public.
While I was passing by the courts, I saw a Black child with short dreadlocks, holding a skateboard and smartphone, approaching one of the tennis courts there from off the path I was biking on. I read the Black child as a boy (but I shouldn’t assume, I know) and about 11 years old. There were about 4 tennis courts. Two white women (I read them as ‘white’ and women) holding tennis balls and racquets were also approaching the tennis court that the little boy was approaching. When he realized that they were about to use the same court he was heading towards, he said, “But, I wanted to use that one.” His tone was calm and polite.
One of the women literally yelled with complete vitriol and anger (actually, it was more like SCREAMING with pure aggression and hate), “USE ANOTHER COURT!” (Think of an angry Klingon voice from Star Trek). I read her face as completely hostile and unremorseful. The friend she was with told the boy, “Well, this one is more even.” She didn’t yell and was more polite. But she also didn’t seem bothered by the way her friend screamed at the child, nor did she immediately express to her friend how inappropriate (actually, more like “cruel”) her response to that child was (who knows, maybe she did it later?)
I decided to turn around and head back to the court to monitor for about 5 minutes, what could potentially turn into a bad situation. Yes, I already had all the worse-case-scenarios running through my head:
Would she call the police on him?
Would she yell at him some more?
Would he finally get sick of it and start screaming back and then ‘scare’ her into calling the cops?
If she does call the police and they do show up, what would happen?
Would the ‘white fragile woman’ be believed and this child beaten, shot, killed, arrested?
The little boy went to a different court and skateboarded on it, in a circle formation, while looking at his Smartphone for (No, he wasn’t wearing a helmet and I wondered how he could skateboard while looking at a Smartphone without falling).
After 5 minutes, I decided to bicycle towards the Berkeley Natural Grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner. I convinced myself it seemed that the situation was fine.
Since yesterday, I have been incredibly enraged about the incident. I have been angry with myself for not actually approaching this woman and asking her why she felt entitled to yell at that child with such rage and anger. Regardless of skin color, an adult should not be so angry and aggressive the way she did, towards a child, period. I was enraged and still am. Not necessarily with this woman, but with the entire situation of me always having to monitor the well-being of the Black children I see, walking around in the ‘white public’ spaces of Berkeley and Albany. I am angry that I was worried about what would happen if I did approach her, exchanges got ‘heated’, and she called the police on me.
And of course I’m on edge about this, and rightfully so. We live in a country in which a white person in a predominantly white area can merely call the police because they feel threatened by a Black or Brown person for simply breathing the same air they are, 15 feet away from their white ‘vulnerable’ body. This could be while that Black or Brown person conducts business at a local bank or wants to use their skateboard in a tennis court that no one else is using at the moment. Consciously, I think they know that the cops would probably be on their side.
I am enraged because collectively, Black folk have to be hyper-vigilant all the damn time about it. I know I am certainly not exaggerating. My friend’s son is 8 and he is a Black boy. His mom and I talk a lot about being hyper-vigilant. She had shared that she worried about him as he leaves that ‘innocent’ baby-ish appearance and starts looking more and more like a teen; how he will be read and treated just walking around as a child who just wants to love and be loved in a country that is violently anti-Black within a white supremacist based system. My son is 6.5 years old and he too– along with his two younger sisters–, must navigate such a world. As I write this, my blood still boils– again, not directed toward the white woman tennis player– but just about the whole situation of having to constantly worry and be ‘on edge’ about the welfare of Black and Brown children in the USA within the context of living in a white supremacist based racial caste system.
I shared my frustrations and last night’s situation with a colleague at work today who is a white anti-racist ally ( I have the privilege of doing this since I work in the Equity and Inclusion department focusing on diversity, inclusion, and equity issues on the campus). We started talking about what happens when [mostly white] people call the cops on a ‘suspicious’ looking non-white person; how that person ends up injured or even killed when they were not even harmful ( kind of write about this on my recent post here).
How does that person who made that phone call to the police live with their self if who they called the cops on is killed, maimed, jailed?
Do they care?
Do they fully understand what they are doing when calling the cops?
We often hear about the victims of racial profiling in predominantly white areas…but, we never learn about what’s going on in the minds of the person who made that phone call to the police because they were enacting either conscious or unconscious racial bias.
Though not exactly the same thing, I wish I could have asked the white tennis player if she understood her actions; what it means for her to be a white woman in a largely white area of Berkeley screaming like she did to that young Black child who probably already knows the racial-gender schema that is happening/unfolding.
I have heard a lot of white children back talk to adults they don’t know who command them not to do something (i.e. at a playground in Berkeley when an adult asks a 10 year old not to throw toys down the slide in the toddler section of the play area)… but this little Black boy was silent after she screamed at him.
Does she understand why he probably didn’t say one word to her?
Does she realize that he could actually have been terrified of the situation?
To me, a young child embodies the love that so many of us adult unlearn. This child with the skateboard and Smartphone, with dark chocolate skin tone and beautifully manicured dreadlocks is love. What I felt in that woman’s words and body language was the antithesis of that; it signified something deep that she had been untaught about love.
I wondered if he knows about Tamir Rice and if so, how does that knowledge affect how he goes out to play? Affects being a [Black] ‘kid’ in white dominated public spaces? How is that little Black boy feeling right now about last night?
I hope he is all right and will be all right as he learns more and more about what it means to be the object of ‘fear’ for some as well as the subject of ‘love’ for many others.
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