A black man about how to “keep our black boys alive”

A lifelong experience of being black in America tends to mitigate against that.

rageAmy, the one with the Sharp Little Pencil said:

I would like to hear your thoughts on this article … A professor had an horrific experience. The advice he gives, it’s true but SO SAD that youth need to learn it.

The article from the Huffington Post is How to Keep Our Black Boys Alive: Channeling the Rage by Marian Wright Edelman, but referring to an experience by Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, Director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at The Ohio State University, and a bunch of other honorifics.

The core of the incident relayed involved Dr. Strayhorn being pulled over by a police officer after he had purchased a nice new car.

“He said, ‘Do you know why I stopped you?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Because you don’t look old enough to drive this car.’ It sounded like a compliment, but then I had to remind him—in my head, not out loud—that in this country actually, [when] you get a driver’s license, you’re free to drive any car.”

Of course, the VERY first comment is from a white guy who said HE’D been pulled over for driving while young, so that Dr. Strayhorn should just “get over it.” This, I will tell you, is the tricky nature of racism, which is that maybe, just MAYBE it WAS his age. But a lifelong experience of being black in America tends to mitigate against that.

To the broader question, I certainly have had incidents that have enraged me. I don’t think I’ve told this one.

It was the early 1980s, and I was moving to a new apartment in Albany. In those days, I had to actually GO to New York Telephone and Niagara Mohawk, the power company at the time, to get my services connected. So, I took my lunch hour from FantaCo, the comic store I worked at the time, to arrange these things.

My New York Tel experience was great. These flirty, attractive women were trying to upsell me for services I didn’t want, or need, and didn’t buy. Still, it put me in quite the good mood.

Then I went to NiMo, and talked with this woman at length about getting my gas and electricity. I filled out the form, and she went over it. A previous ZIP Code I lived in was 12309, with included a well-to-do suburb of Schenectady called Niskayuna, though in fact, I was living in the part of Schenectady adjacent to it.

“THAT’S a very expensive neighborhood,” she said, sounding as though she didn’t believe me. I replied, “um-hmm”

We get to the part of the process where we arrange to have the service started. I was moving only three blocks from work, off Lark Street. I suggested that the service person call me at work, and I could run over and be at my apartment in five minutes.

She countered: “Why don’t you leave the door unlocked? You don’t have anything of value anyway.”

I was angry. No, I was livid. I was enraged. Yet, I found the place in my voice to say, “Actually, I DO have things of value.” Eventually, and unhappily, she capitulated to my request.

I got back to work, late, and I’m sure someone pointed that out. I pounded on a desk and said, teeth literally clenched, “I had the worst customer service experience in my life,” and explained the dialogue.

A couple of days later, because I needed to calm down enough to think, I wrote a page and a half long, typed letter to NiMO, expressing my outrage. To their credit, they wrote back an apology and suggested the employee would be reprimanded. Whether that happened, I don’t know.

Note that this woman never called me the N- word, or made any direct, specific racial reference. I could draw the conclusion that questions anyone who lived in a nice neighborhood, or suggested that their possessions were valueless. OR I could draw the conclusion that this was racially motivated.

Now I COULD have lost my cool at the NiMo office. I would have felt totally justified. The problem is that I would have come across as a crazy black man, who just went OFF for no apparent reason.

I’ve long thought that Jackie Robinson, needing to control his rage against the taunts he experienced when he broke the color line in Major League Baseball, shortened his life; he was only 53 when he died. Hey, maybe rage contributes to lower life expectancy among black people – both rage expressed, in violence, and rage suppressed.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

5 thoughts on “A black man about how to “keep our black boys alive””

  1. The presumption that I am buying my house with my alimony (I don’t get alimony), that I followed my husband to Europe (full ride scholarship and he had no job), that I don’t understand computers (have written artificial intelligence programs)… GAR!

    One of the ones that really bugged me was when I went to my friend’s house with my then boyfriend who is Chinese. And she said “oh thank god! Someone to fix my computer not to me, with four scientific publications in new computer techniques, but to my boyfriend, who is a musician.

    I could go on, but I get what you’re driving at and… GAR!

  2. Wow,that’s ridiculously insulting of her, and she was so casual about it.

  3. When we visited my American aunt, people everywhere complained about black people, they were such racists that finally I had enough and asked one if he only knew from where they are coming from ? Of course he had no clue. When I explained the history he made eyes like a saucer ! He probably slept at school and all the others too !

  4. Roger, this was the heart of the article, and I am not surprised that you experienced what you did… disgusting. The worst part, to me, is the ease with which whites make huge assumptions, as though “we” can have whatever, go wherever,do whatever, with impugnity, but when a person of color has/goes/does the same, it’s somehow suspect.

    The new president of my denomination, the United Church of Christ, published a fantastic piece from the perspective of a white man dealing with the issue of white privilege.

    Link is: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-john-c-dorhauer/an-open-letter-to-white-m_b_7857790.html

    Meantime, I remember our family friends telling horrible stories about getting pulled over; my friend Billy Fuster was passed over time and again for promotion at IBM, and their motto was, “THINK.” He saw irony in that… Thanks, Roger, for responding to my emailed question with this post. Here’s hoping that the day will come when we see each other’s skin tone but don’t make assumptions…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial