To Fight or Flight—Being Black in America

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I love karaoke. I have no problem getting up on the stage and singing, if you want to call it that. Some people get nervous thinking, “What if I am terrible?” Well, I know I am bad. My voice is off-key, flat, and I sometimes sound like an animal howling at the moon. Matter of fact, I am so terrible, I have to jump around, spin, and move in a frantic fashion to distract everyone from the fact that I have no business singing into the mic. While some take the chance to sing a Marvin Gaye or Lauryn Hill song as if they are auditioning for “The Voice,” I destroy Prince or Bob Marley because I find the absurdity of karaoke absolutely fun.

On a Monday night, I decided to meet my partner Michelle at her company’s holiday party in a bar/nightclub in the Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco. After food was eaten, trivia was lost, ridiculous music was played, and said music was danced to, she and I decided to head upstairs to the bar area where karaoke was being sung. Michelle sung a fantastic rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor” and I “followed” it up with a cover of Marley’s “This Is Love.” Feeling great about myself, I decided to sing Sublime’s “Love Is What I Got.” Being a Sublime fan and hearing this song 80,000 times, I thought I could do it justice. While struggling through the track, an older white male, maybe 45 to 50 walked past me and yelled near my face, “I moved here to get away from people like you!” Confused and shocked, I thought to myself, “Is this guy kidding? Is he serious?” I instantly yelled, “Fuck you!”, and turned my attention to Michelle as she began to charge towards the guy. I pulled her away as she began to yell every obscenity at him, we both asked him, “What do you mean by “People like us?”

This guys was scared and had been called on his shit, he backtracked: “The noisy people.”

As if being in a karaoke bar was going to be quiet and there wouldn’t be a white guy who had gone before me, who had screamed like a dying cat during his performance of Pearl Jam.

The guy then waved his tripod in our face, so I knocked it away and pushed him toward the door. More expletives were exchanged and then he hurriedly left the bar. Michelle was fuming, and wanted to run after him, but I held her as I tried to finish the song in an attempt of levity. It was over. Everyone, including all the white people in the bar were quiet and staring at us as I became another victim of a racist attack. They were glaring at us as if we’d done something wrong.

The next day, I replayed the incident over and over in my head.

I was a bit depressed about it. Again, I am not surprised because Black people have been terrorized for centuries. It is something we live with and sadly you get used to. I have experienced upfront racism plenty of times. On that day however, I felt a form of fatigue. My partner Michelle wanted to talk about it, asking me if I was okay. I thought about my actions: Should I have just ignored the guy? Hit him? Run after him? I shook my head; I’d had enough. I wanted to check out. I wasn’t shaken up about the racist white man; I was just tired of Black folks having to go through this all the time. I then said to myself, damn, sometimes I am just tired of being Black.

I am pretty sure that every Black person has felt this way at one point or another. We become battle weary of fighting racist white people every-day of our lives. There is always something. A comment, a picture, a movie, a song, a murder…… just something that reminds you that you are not white and that your life is a 24/7 fight against white supremacy. When I said that, I thought about locking myself in my house. Turning off the television, shutting down the PC, and putting away my phone. No MSNBC or CNN reporting on the latest white nationalist selection of now President-Elect Trump, no reading of the latest attack of white aggression on Latinos in San Francisco, today’s killing of an unarmed Black man by a police officer, no news of white children yelling n*gger to their African American classmates, and of course, no reading any social media posts from a young liberal Caucasian wanting to hold hands in a weak attempt of solidarity in the face of Trump. I have had enough! I just don’t want to deal with it. But, I then I realize, this is just a fantasy. There will be no reprieve. This is every non-white person’s life. This is my life.

What surprised me is that the man verbally attacked me. I am not saying I am this tough guy that no one messes with, that ain’t the case. However, as a Black man who is somewhat muscular and dark complected, or as the rapper Mos Def said, “I’m Blacker than midnight on Broadway and Myrtle,” white people usually either step out of my way or cross the street when I am coming. White women clutch their purses in fear, stand in the opposite corner from me in elevators, and give me the side eye of death. I am used to being looked at as the scary Black man. That is the price I pay for being a melanated person.

This incident, however felt different as it could be a harbinger for the way society will act.

The election of Donald J. Trump as the forty-fifth president of the United States, has signaled white people to become less refined and more overt about their racist views. The new head of state ran an extremely racist and bigoted campaign, calling Latinos drug dealers, Muslim’s “possible members of Al Qaeda,” and the anti-police terrorism group Black Lives Matter, “terrorists.” Trump drudged up many ugly stereotypes that he knew would connect with white voters and they took the bait: hook, line, and sinker. By winning the most powerful position in politics, Trump validated what many whites wanted and felt—a return to treating non-white people however they felt. The politically-correct shackles were off. Now, I am not saying racism has returned because of the election of Trump; I am not that naïve. Racism is as American as apple pie and baseball. However, within 10 days of the 2016 election, there has been nearly 900 racist attacks in America. I believe there is connection and a possible connection to my run-in on Monday.

At first I had reservations about writing about the incident. Black people face this everyday; I am not special.

My partner, however, urged me to reconsider and I did. I am what they would call in the 50’s and 60’s “a race man.” Writing about the experience of Black and other non-white people is my activism, and in the age of “President Trump” stories like these need to be told now more than ever. It is especially important that people are made aware that incidents like these happen in cities like San Francisco, CA. Many believe that racism happens only in the south, or in states that overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump. However, that is not an accurate understanding of the problem. Racism/white supremacy is a worldwide issue. It is everywhere.

While writing this piece at a restaurant, I had a conversation with a Mexican woman about it. I told her what happened and she was horrified, but said that, “We should have ignored it and moved on.” “If you give them ammunition, they will continue to use it,” the woman suggested. While I disagree with her suggestions, I understand that she is a non-white person and we all have our ways of dealing with racism. That got me thinking: Should I have ignored the man and moved on? As I said earlier, this happens all the time. Maybe that is the reason the crowd was speechless? White men being white men?  Maybe this is acceptable behavior to them? Maybe the people at the bar believe this is how Black people are supposed to be treated? White men being white men? I thought perhaps I should have walked away? I then quickly shook that off. Hell no, I am a fighter. Black people have been way too forgiving to racists and have looked away too many times. I am not built like that. I sometimes think about what my hero Malcolm X would do, and I would like to believe that he would agree with my partner and my actions that night.

Since that night, I have chalked it up to another day in America being Black. I will continue to torch ears when doing karaoke. I am also thinking of trying out a new song: James Brown’s, “I’m Black and I am Proud.”

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