I was racially profiled the other day in my own neighborhood. There are many people out in the world who face the same situation daily, and many more who are ignorant to what happened. It’s stupid, and if you’re reading this, I want to be the first one to tell you excuses such as “I didn’t do anything wrong” and “I didn’t think I was profiling” are inane.
I’m not writing this for your sympathy. I do not want you to feel sorry for me. What I do want you to do is understand what a lot of you do on an everyday basis and will probably continue to do even after you read this. I can’t stop it, but I can write about it.
My narrative begins on a January day on the sidewalk in front of my white female friend’s house. We were talking, walking, laughing around the neighborhood, like regular teens should be able do, before we sat down outside of her home. A lady in a car was riding by, and we waved, which is something I feel like I have to do everyday when I walk outside of my home just so I don’t look like a target.
Everything seemed OK at first. As the lady was riding by, she rolled her window down to say “Hey guys,” in an excited tone before taking off in the direction of the traffic circle. Everything’s cool, right? That’s what I thought. I didn’t see anything wrong with the gesture at first. It seemed normal. That was before she put her car in reverse two minutes after the first encounter and then spoke to us again, asking why we were sitting outside.
My friend Aida spoke first, explaining that she lived in the house behind us. Then I spoke, explaining that I lived in the neighborhood, and then I gave the lady my address — not that it was any of her business anyway. It didn’t seem like a crime to want to talk to one of my only good friends on this side of town before heading inside and focusing on the ton of homework that my teachers had given me in my honors and AP classes.
The lady said “OK” and then drove off again in the direction of the traffic circle. Aida and I stared at each other for a good 10 seconds before I got up, pretty angry, and told her that was my cue to leave. She agreed, letting out a few more curses than I did about how stupid it was that we can’t even talk in our own neighborhood and how that lady was probably going to put it on the community Facebook page. Our community Facebook page is something the neighborhood uses to profile black people — or in white-washed terms, alert other neighbors about “crime” and other events happening. And guess what? She absolutely did!
As soon as I got home, I got a call from my mom, who was with my little brother at his all-state chorus audition. “Did you go straight home?” she asked with a nervous and frantic tone.
I told her no, explaining what I did after school. She told me that the lady had posted a message on Facebook. Wow. In response, my mom posted a lengthy and classy, Michelle Obama-esque response, which definitely did not match how she was really feeling. People from the neighborhood backed her up in the comments, and to put it short, I became pretty popular, receiving a bunch of waves and smiles the next morning at the bus stop. You’d call it a victory, right? I wouldn’t.
The issue didn’t end there. My mother still fears for me. She has gotten minimal sleep because of the incident. She’s let out tears because of what could have happened. I’ve tried to console her and say that I’m still here, and I’m not going anywhere. It’s not working, however. The fear from that day is still in her and will continue to be. Ever since the tragic murder of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, and then the plethora of unlawful police brutality cases that have erupted since, black mothers have been on high alert at all times.
Whenever I exit the car at the gas station to pick up an Arizona Tea and some watermelon-flavored Sour Patch Kids, my mother rolls her window down and tells me to take my hoodie off before entering. It makes me angry, but I then understand that until I have my own African-American son in this world, I’ll never understand the struggle.
And even then, I’ll never understand because I’ll never be a black mother in America. I’m not mad that I was racially profiled anymore. I’m over it. What I am mad about is that you messed with my momma’s spirit. And nobody, and god, I mean nobody messes with Desiree.
When you see that played-out cliché, “what if the tables were turned,” ignore it. It’s annoying, yes, I know, and it will continue to be. But really, what if we did switch the roles? How about I take out my fancy iPhone X and promptly post onto some stupid social media site about what your white kid is doing 24/7 in his own neighborhood. Wouldn’t you get pissed off, white parent?
Yes, you would. And don’t tell me you wouldn’t. Someone is messing with your child. That person you’ve seen grow from birth to now. And you would fight. You would scratch, claw and scream if someone did to your child what that white lady did to me that afternoon.
My advice is this: Next time, take a second before you post about every black child that you see out in your neighborhood. I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. Thanks.
Mack, 15, attends North Atlanta High School, is VOX’s audio editor, serves on the VOX Board of Directors and is an amazing person, if you take the time to get to know him.