At the end of the Civil War, the 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery, but it didn’t end the discrimination of
Black people, especially here in the South. We’re decades removed from the Jim Crow era but those similar ideologies continue to resonate amongst the people in our state. My late grandfather, J.W. Martin, Jr., often told me stories about the troubles he faced as a young man growing up here in Mississippi. This included police officers arresting him and his friends for petty crimes and the anger he would sometimes feel after being denied entrance or a job opportunity just because he was Black. I never really quite understood how one could dislike a person based on their complexion – until I faced discrimination. This experience led me to ask the question: is perception reality? In my experience, often as humans, we let our eyes deceive us, especially when it comes to the value of ourselves or another person.
Safety, security, and comfort are the key elements for any successful neighborhood to thrive but once again crime
has reared its ugly head and threatened those pillars most of us hold dear. A string of recent carjackings has the affluent Belhaven area on edge and I believe that this will make life difficult for many of those who look like me. An increased police presence and nervous white neighbors will only lead to future misunderstandings and discrimination towards individuals who may not look like they belong. Crime is colorblind; it does not have a race or creed attached to it but somehow the narrative is often warped into young black males wreaking havoc in white neighborhoods. I feel as though the outrage and concern should be equal. Every Jacksonian deserves the right to feel safe and unbothered wherever they call home.
Recently, I decided to take a leisurely stroll around my neighborhood, which is home to affluent older white retirees.While walking, I’m completely aware of who I am and what I am. I like to walk in complete comfort; my outfit usually consists of a wrinkled t-shirt, sweats, and a slightly worn pair of work boots. As I made my way down the block – oblivious to the fact that my presence alone was attracting a higher level of concern – the only thing on my mind was the nice weather and the music blasting through my headphones.
I made it to the end of the street, which was a three-way stop, and decided to make a right. After weighing my
options, I concluded that this was the quickest way to the corner store. It was a beautiful day, and a walk to the store for snacks seemed like a great idea. I’ve taken this route dozens of times, and I never noticed a particular business located at the corner tucked between two houses. The operation became more apparent as I noticed several cars parked out front – two in the driveaway and one parked in front of the building.
All of a sudden, I hear a “click click”, which signifies to me that someone noticed me walking past their vehicle and
decided to lock their doors. Initially, I thought nothing of it, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a patron of the
business ducking and crouching behind a bush as if she was trying to catch me in the act of a crime. I chuckled and
mumbled to myself, “I guess it’s a crime to walk while Black.” Then I thought about how other people of color must
feel while walking around the neighborhood and how they are judged based on their appearances. With that mindset, I decided to turn around, go grab a business card of mine and hand it to the owner so he’d know that I’m a person of value and that I’m equally concerned with the rise in crime in the area.
Of course, things didn’t go as smoothly as I imagined. I was instantly given a hard look up and down and met with curse words and foul language. At the time, I was a producer for a local news station; while keeping my composure, I politely explained that to the man. I want to help the community in any way that I can. “Well, you don’t look like a news producer!! You look like a thug!!” I responded with, “What does a news producer look like sir?”
Just because I look a certain way does not mean I’m a criminal; or a thug. The foul language continued as our exchange continued. To keep the peace, I decided to leave, hoping that our conversation would open his eyes. I hope that one day he won’t be so quick to judge, because Black people are not a threat to his survival. We want the same things he does. Perceptions are real and, in some cases, they are true. Nonetheless, human beings are much more complex. What if that was my first and only interaction with an older white male? Should I think that all white men will formulate opinions about me based on my appearance? Will I be denied job opportunities or loans because I’m Black? In order to change realities, we need to see one another as equals. I am no better than the next because of my complexion and neither is the next man. Once we start believing this, interracial relationships will improve and thus a safe environment for all of us to enjoy.