I live in a working-class black neighborhood that is bordered on one side by a affluent white neighborhood and on the other side by a very poor, very dangerous predominately black neighborhood (also, living here has gotten me out of the habit of saying African American, because the blacks look at you like you’re retarded when you say it).
The poor neighborhood has a gun violence problem. Right before we moved here a young anti-gun activist living about seven blocks over was shot and killed; on nice days, like today, when I am out walking I see at least one young black man in a wheelchair, and usually at least one limping one. Because I’m a dumb white lady it took me a while to realize they were shooting victims.
Today on my walk I passed three young men who had trouble walking, and when I passed one of them he said to me, “Lookit’ you, lady! Unh-huh!”
“Hi,” I said as I approached him. Men are very flirtatious around here. I often get a lascivious “Salam, sister.”
“Day-yum. In your nice comfortable gym shoes out walking left-right-left-right.”
“Uh?” I said.
“Don’t be angry at me, sistah.”
“I’m not? What?”
“You don’t gotta walk so fast, we ain’t gonna catchu.”
It is common for me to find myself in this communication purgatory. I assume he is just being cheeky, but a few blocks later I wonder if my fast walk has appeared to him as white fear or something (or would that be black fear?). BattleGate is almost certainly laughing at this right now, because I have a conspicuously rapid walking pace that she dubbed the “City Walk” – it’s an unconscious effort on my part. Later yet I wonder if it was some kind of good-natured ambulatory bitterness.
When I was in New Orleans eating a muffaletta sitting on a park bench away from the crowds, a large black man approached me and asked, “You be honest with me if I ask you somethin’?”
“You be honest?”
“You be honest if I can tell you exactly where you bought them shoes from?”
“Why would you want to do that?”
He stared at me. I stared back. I felt like I was in another country.
“You said you’d be honest.”
I figure he’s crazy and deploy a mild Look-At-The-Elephant*. “I’m gonna eat this sandwich now, before I have to get back to work. Take it easy.”
He walked away. Later in my hotel room as I was reading over a press packet for the city, I came across a safety pamphlet. Among other things, it advised that there was a scam locals ran where they’d tell you where you got your shoes from and then ask for money, and how you are to firmly repeat “NO THANK YOU” and not engage them in conversation. I flipped the paper over, expecting there to be something on the back side. What part was the scam? Could they hypnotize you? I was intrigued, but there was no further explanation. If Jonno or Richard are reading this, maybe you have some explanation for me: there’s no actual scam, right? They are just advising tourists (or press, in my case) to be frightened of beggars?
Anyway, I’ve only been frightened twice since living here: one was a wiry, enraged crazy woman who thought I’d laughed at her (I ran, ‘cuz bitch was gonna fuck me up) and the other was a huge truck full of football fans on the night of a big Bengals game, who pulled over to where I was walking our dog so a woman could open the door and call, “Come over here, baby!” in a weirdly friendly tone while I overheard someone else say in the cab “Just go over there, quick!” (again, running). The last one was by far the scariest, and nary a black dude in sight.
*My dad worked as a caretaker for developmentally disabled sex-offenders and told me that he’d defused several dangerous situations by actually pointing outside and going “What the-“. This was fondly referred to as Look-At-The-Elephant.