What is in and outside of your control.
How today, when leaving my doctor’s office I called a taxi as I usually do to drive me home. Only, when I get to the cab—Independent Taxi #294—the driver locks the door and rolls up the windows. He says he does not want to give me a ride becuase I am Black. And when I refuse, when I stood up for my rights to defend myself, the driver gets out of the front seat and comes around the back. He is an inch away from my face, yelling and screaming that he is going to pull me out of the car, asshole, stupid black bitch and run me over. At this point, he actually touches me. I call 911, terrified. This is assault.
And here is where it gets interesting….
Two middle-aged white male officers show up, Officers Batty and Officers Castaldo of the BHPD. They talk to the white male cab driver first. They nod and smile. Then they come over to me and tell me that, and I quote, “The driver has every right to refuse service to me based upon how I look.”
And then, when I protest, Officer Castaldo says he will go ahead and arrest me for being upset and refusing to let the taxi driver be racist towards me.
What, then, I ask, have the past fifty years been for?
For what was the point of the Civil Rights Movement, and Ms. Parks…and Dr. King dying and all those tiny little afro-puffed girls and boys drowned full force under the press of other uncaring white policemen’s fire hoses and truncheons?
They have every right to deny service to you because you are Black.
I have never felt so small and worthless in my life.
They have every right to discriminate against you based upon how you looked; he was perfectly within his rights.
It isn’t about the fact that I am a “certain kind of Black”–an educated college professor with two degrees who exhibited nothing more frightening in her appearence than a pair of rather thick nerdy glasses. It’s about the fact that no one should be made to be treated this way.
I, unlike the taxi driver and the police officers, had the whole rest of my work day destroyed. I could focus. I could not stop shaking six hours later. Deadlines were missed, clients were angered. Because I—as a young 100 pound woman, was terrified at this sweaty, cursing, odoriferous man threatening to “drag you out of my cab asshole!” Because I, as a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda still am reeling from horrors of police brutality and violence. And, just like then, the law chose to protect the aggressor, not the victim. No mention of the fear I am experiencing because of the PST triggered by being assaulted and attacked by men before. And the fact that the reason I was seeing the doctor in the first place was because of being dragged, half in, half out of a cab for two city blocks in New York City by another taxi driver who took off as soon as I got in because he didn’t want to drive a Black in his car.
My first memory of race in Los Angeles is being with my father, in a store, in Beverly Hills. He was buying me a dress for my junior high graduation. He was proud because I had finished junior high in one year. We went into a store. They told us to leave. They did not want Blacks there.
I had missed my father’s experience because my focus was on the fifty year old white man who was attempting to grope my 12 year old post-puberty Black ass while my father was being detained by security. Then, I was more scared for myself and my sisters—with me, as with all Black women, there was an element of fundamental attraction to our bodies in rhe desiring of white men that makes the racism we experience a different kind of ugliness—there is a sense of sexual entitlement to our bodies based on white privilege and the legacy of slavery…the eroticization of us on a physical level, for the animalistic raw thrill of sex—the darker the berry the sweeter the juice, once you go black you don’t go back, etc… expendability. The use, for sex and pleasure, but never commitment.
But as I grew up, my thoughts were less on the continued exploitation of the black female body and more about what my father’s experience must have been like. What my brother’s experience must have been like. I realized I was more scared for them because racism would always try to jail and kill and destroy them that way.
And now, again in Los Angeles, echoing so loudly is this message…Imagine, on an hourly, daily, basis every year traumatic painful experiences with people who have no reason to hate you find a way to treat you with the utmost derision, contempt, condescension, violence, and hate.
To be told you do not matter.
To have to fight to be seen as a person.
To have to fight to be treated like a person.
The unendurable pressure. The psychological weight. The physical exhaustion. The destruction of the spirit, to wither and die.
How difficult this was when a child, here, to withstand this pressure when I did not yet know to see what was actually going on. That I did not need to believe the authority figures and these voices to internalize self-hate and lack of self-worth. That I could believe myself. Believe in myself.
That is the freedom and space that living in NYC gave me as an African American woman. I did not have to fight to defend my existence every second of every day that I was outside of my house. People did not see Black first. They saw a woman, a writer, a professor, a student, a friend. Sometimes simply Hope. I could breathe. I could live. I could truly find myself, outside preconceived notions of who I should be/act like and how awfully I was treated. I could create.
I could simply be, a human being. Nothing more. Nothing less.
*** READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT www.drivingwhenblack.com ****