Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bigger Than Starbucks

I am Black. Or African-American. Or Negro. Or colored. I prefer “Blacker” but for the sake of this post I'll just say that I'm Black. It doesn't matter that one of my great-great grandmother was raped by the White guy that owned her and had a bunch of kids. I'm Black. There is some Native American sprinkled in too but still, you know. Black. A while ago I wrote how being Black was about 60% good and 40% bad. That 40% is bad because it leads to death or imprisonment. I have been thinking a lot about being Black lately. Mostly a Black guy. Black women have a set of problems I'll ask one of them to write about some day. Their story is different than mine. I don't know if you've heard but some shit went down at a Philadelphia Starbucks location. I won't get into how Starbucks here in California was ordered to put labels on their products saying that they have chemicals that cause cancer (a chemical called acrylamide which is a byproduct of roasted coffee and this ruling is mostly cautionary though acrylamide irritates skin and can cause tumors on skin). Let's take a quick look at what went down in Philly.

Last week on April 12th two Black dudes were waiting inside a Starbucks. They asked to use the bathroom. They were told no and that bathrooms are only for paying customers. They were then asked to leave by the store manager (she is a whole 'nother thing altogether) and they said that they were waiting for someone before ordering. The store manager called the police and said the guys were trespassing. They were arrested while being recorded by confused patrons who asked what the guys even did. 

The person they were waiting for, not Black, showed up and explained that they were waiting for him. The police commissioner released a statement saying the officers “did nothing wrong.” I agree with that part. What is wrong is what the manager did and the reasons she did it. There have been protests, more statements released, and on May 29th Starbucks will close its locations and hold a racial-bias education something or other. If you want to hear a good podcast about how bias works click here for an episode of This American Life that covered it.

Let's talk about racial-bias for a second. “Racial biases are a form of implicit bias, which refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect an individual's understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” This bias shit can be more dangerous that people being flat out racist because its sneaky without the intent of being so. It is the lady clutching her purse when she sees me walking towards her. It is the guy crossing the street when I am walking on the same sidewalk. It is the person not sitting next to me on the bus. It is being followed in stores by badly hiding employees. It is the police car slowing down and eyeballing me while I am sitting at the bus stop.

Everyone has some sort of bias. It doesn't mean you're a monster. Usually. Sometimes it comes down to preference. I have a preference towards women that don't look like skinny, little girls. That is a bias. When you have a bias it is sometimes because of how you were raised and you don't even think about it. You could have been born somewhere and Black people either didn't exist there or there were very few. Just because you were friends with that one Black girl on your softball team does not mean you know Black people. I knew exactly two White boys until I was 9 years old. Doesn't mean I know anything about them. Hell, I barely know what being a Black man is since the shit keeps changing. Are we cool? Athletic? Dangerous? Mysterious? Well spoken?

“Go back to Africa!” someone just thought. Loudly. I heard you and allow me to respond.

I have never been to Africa. I have zero desire to go there. None. There is no T'challa Ross hoping to meet me. It is one of those reasons I don't like the term African-American and Africans don't like being called Black. I have friends whose parents are from other countries but they aren't calling themselves “German-American”, “Hungarian-American”, or whatever. But I get saddled with African-American. I don't have family in Africa as far as I know. My family for the most part was brought here on the world's worst cruise ship, beaten, raped, killed, kinda set free, treated worse than animals, crammed into prisons at alarming rates, and arrested for waiting for someone at Starbucks.

I have read and heard people, that weren't Black say “If they tried that with me I would have...” followed by actions that would've led to my Black ass being taken to jail with fresh new bruises or killed. I have said many times to friends that I do not want my name in the news or online attached to a hashtag. Let's take the scenario that these dudes were in and change their reactions.

1. They get told to leave. They start yelling at the manager. “Ha! I was right!” she thinks. They get arrested.

2. They get told to leave. They leave. They miss a meeting that they had planned and whatever opportunity that came with it. The guy they were meeting did not understand why they were being arrested. He likely would not understand them standing outside because they were told to leave.

3. They get told to leave. They cause a ruckus. Customers step in. Fights happen. Cops come. Guys get arrested or killed.

What actually happened, them being arrested for sitting, was sadly the best outcome. They ended up not being charged but being handcuffed while people watched knowing you did nothing wrong and having millions of people see it online sucks. I was handcuffed in high school (they thought I was a bank robber) and I vividly recall seeing all the people watching me from their cars, on the street, and on the school campus. I couldn't help but smile at the absurdity. It was stupid. I knew it was stupid. But when police have guns aimed at you chances are you'll keep your thoughts to yourself.

A few days ago I was talking to my mother as well as my best friend about being a Black guy. I told my mother “This sucks. I'm not leaving my apartment.” It sounds very melodramatic but it is how I feel way more now than I have in the past. Some of it is because when bad shit was happening to Black people in the news you could see why something may have happened and in some cases you had to look hard. Oh, they was late out. Oh, they were in a bad neighborhood. Oh, they were with the wrong people. Oh, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, he was selling loose cigarettes. Oh, he reached for his license. Oh, he had a wallet in his hand. Oh, he had an outstanding warrant. Oh, he was standing in his backyard. Sites dig into the past of the assaulted or dead hoping to find a reason why the actions were justified. 

This all boils down to not feeling at home even at home. Wherever I go I am Black and potentially dangerous. There is no going back to Africa. I don't enjoy the feeling of keeping my head down when I walk down the street because when I look up people look afraid. There are not that many Black people in this country no matter how many you see where you may live. 12% is not a lot. I remember one day at work a Black coworker counting the amount of Black people in the room an going “Wow.” There were six. That is considered a lot. I now that people get tired of Black people talking about how rough they have it. Guess what? Black people are tired of having it rough! We are fully aware that others have it rough as well whether they are women, LGBTQ, handicapped, and mentally disabled. God. Just adding Black to any of those titles is a big ass issue that is difficult.

This is not an attack on people who are not Black. I'm just rambling about humanity because this seems to be getting worse. People need to start being more inclusive. Things that were once considered “Black” which are now called “urban” to get around that Black stuff have non-Blacks whether they want them or not. Rap music, which is usually called the cause of Black issues and violence, is being run by White rappers. Look at clothing people wear. The big asses that were considered a Black woman attribute has been co-opted by exercise classes that promise to give you that “ghetto booty.” Look at your friends and associates and ask yourself how different you look. Consider the activities you do and ask if they are involving multiple cultures or just people with a lot of money. Listen to how you talk when you talk to someone that is not your race. “Bro” and “gurl” make Black people cringe. If you ask us if it really does we may say it doesn't because the last thing we need is more anger towards us. And check the whole fist in the air stuff. I see that at rallies and go “Yeesh...” Only being arrested should not be the best case scenario. 

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