The weather in the Syracuse area has been beautiful for a few days now. Instead of staying in the house walking, which I have to do all winter, or driving to the mall for a different scene, I enjoy going out and walking in the fresh air. Sometimes I go to Onondaga Lake Park, and sometimes I walk the neighborhood.

exhibition of racism

A couple of days ago, I decided to walk around the neighborhood by myself. Depending on which walk I decide upon, it takes me either 20 minutes or 30 minutes. It was getting late, and I had to be home before I got the call saying the bus was bringing my mother home, but I could still take a casual walk as I wanted to see the rhododendrons before they started to die out.

There were other people walking, some in pairs, some with dogs, some by themselves like I was. It’s a pretty quiet neighborhood while also being scenic. It wasn’t too hot or too cold; it was close to perfect.

There I am, walking in my sweatsuit in my neighborhood, taking in the scenery and fresh air, when up ahead I notice someone walking my way. She obviously looked further up ahead like I did, but she suddenly felt uncomfortable, for when she was maybe 100 yards or so from me she suddenly crossed the street. As she crossed over and eventually walked by, she strained hard to make sure I couldn’t make eye contact with her.

You know what? I didn’t find this strange at all, just disappointing. I didn’t find it strange because it happens quite often, even after all the years I’ve lived here.

I’m a middle aged black male who’s lived in my neighborhood for almost 19 years. Most of the neighborhood knows which house I live in; that’s been proven multiple times. Interestingly enough, I’ve had people ask me if I live in “that yellow house up the street”, and it comes from people who don’t live within viewing distance.

So I’m not an unknown anomaly; it can’t happen in this neighborhood. Yet, there’s still this stigma that there’s some danger in walking past, or making contact, with me at times.

Am I paranoid? Did she move to the other side of the street because I’m black or because I’m a male? Did she move to the other side of the street because she suddenly realized she wasn’t walking on the side where traffic was coming towards her (which is my norm)? Was it for some other reason that I can’t comprehend?

It begs the question, especially in today’s age of people calling the police on black people for being black. What was I going to do in public, on my own street, actually within viewing distance of my own house? What perceived threat was I, wearing styled workout clothes, not dressed like a thug, obviously older than her and not close to being in the same kind of shape she was in? If she’d been paying attention, like she had to early on, she saw that I had greeted the couple that had walked by me just a few seconds earlier (I’m kind of a friendly sort).

If I’d had the opportunity to ask her, I know she’d have said it had nothing to do with bias or racism or my being a male. Yet, the way she worked hard not to notice me is telling.

I’m hard to miss, especially in this neighbor hood, and she didn’t miss me otherwise she wouldn’t have gone to the other side of the street. She was staring ahead hard as she went by me; I know because I looked.

I almost said something; then I let it go. If she was already scared or uncomfortable enough to move to the other side of the street, anything I said was just going to confirm her suspicions.

Although I don’t know for sure what thoughts preceded her reaction, in my mind it highlighted an inherent problem in America; one that’s not going away anytime soon.

It’s not overt racism that causes the biggest problems. It’s the little acts of unconscious thought that get people angry. Whether she really was exhibiting the bad behavior or not, that was certainly my initial perception. It always comes down to perception, and if one isn’t given the chance to explain themselves, then the perception sticks.

Thank goodness it was a good day overall; I’d have hated for that incident to sour me for the rest of it. At least it gave me an idea of something to write about; lemonade out of lemons.

Your thoughts?
 

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