In light of the recent shootings of several unarmed Black American citizens, I felt compelled to share a personal experience to shed more light on how African Americans are regarded and treated in America. We police the world for human rights violation. Who is policing us?
For the first time since I left my native country of Haiti forty years ago, I was racially profiled in Bostwick, Fla., an unincorporated community in Putnam County. It happened on October 28, 2013 while I was staying there with my husband who was completing an assignment in Palatka, Fla., as a locum tenens physician. We have happily lived and raised our daughters in St Petersburg for 28 years.
I left the house in Bostwick for a walk at 5:30 PM, with my music in my ears, minding my business. Twenty minutes into my walk, a white pickup truck pulled up next to me, spitting gravel. I removed my earplugs as I noticed there was no one else around and the Caucasian driver was talking and gesturing. His left arm was outside the window pointing at me accusingly.
“You live ‘round here,” he drawled in a very thick southern accent.
“Yeah,” I answered.
“We had an incident ‘round here yesterday. A man of your “persuasion” was goin’ round snappin’ photos of people’s automobiles,” he added.
“I want to know what street you livin on?” he continued.
I stared at him, shocked.
Then I noticed he was shirtless and toothless with a mean look on his face. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties. I put my earpieces back on and proceeded to cut my walk short and go back to the house.
As I turned on my street, he drove by me and slowed down, glaring at me through the passenger side window. I kept on walking, furtively looking around to see if there were any other people on their porches or front yards. I needed a witness in case he decided to do “something.” The street was deserted, even the dogs stopped barking. I quickened my steps as anger boiled inside me.
What have I done to this man to deserve this harassment?
If the color of my skin bothered him so much, was that my problem?
The response in my head to his questions might have started a verbal confrontation. Suddenly I thought of all the previous victims of racial profiling. Was it worth it to get into a war of words with this ignorant, toothless, tattooed, backward idiot?
He probably was incapable of understanding my weapon of words and I was not prepared to face his firearms, which I was sure he carried in that truck to protect himself against people of my “persuasion.”
My immediate response would have been: “Man, this is 2013 and in case you can’t read, I know you watch TV. There’s a man of my “persuasion” in the White house. So get the hell away from me”
But I didn’t say anything. Did that make me a coward or a smart woman not willing to self-sacrifice for the greater cause?
After all, how did all the racially motivated deaths move our plight forward? How did they change the discourse of racial inequality in America today?
Now I can understand why African-American males might feel angry and tired of being profiled. That was my first time and it was one time too many that afternoon.
Why do we have to explain our presence in certain areas of our country?
Why did the presence of an unarmed African-American woman threaten the security and peace of a big white man?
Economic segregation had already removed the people of my persuasion from areas inhabited by people of his “persuasion.”
But must we also not even walk on “their” streets? Sit on “their” park benches?
Isn’t it a free country? Or is it only free for some but not all?
One might say: Why are we still writing, talking and airing racial incidents? My answer is: We can’t afford not to. As long as people like “toothless” are raising children who stared and gaped at me that afternoon as if I was from another planet and ran inside, perhaps to alert him, then our fight for equality, acceptance and respect will continue for a long time.