Trayvon Martin And Walking While Black

By Guest Contributor Aurin Squire, cross-posted from Six Perfections

Keep moving. 

Don’t stop. 

Don’t make eye contact. 

I have felt like Trayvon Martin. Many many times while walking at night, being pulled over by police, being told that I’m not supposed to ‘be.’ My ‘being’ in a space has caused questions, concerns, suspicions. In the back of my mind I always wondered if there would be a reckoning. If my ‘being’ would become so intolerable to someone that they would try to end my existence rather than engage in a conversation.  The only difference between me and Trayvon is that I am still here and he is not.  Still, the question lurks around the subconscious when I walk home every night from the subway and a police car slows down alongside me. The squad car slows down. Eyeballs examine my ‘being,’ noticing any signs of anger, insanity, guilt. I continue walking, pretending to be oblivious. In most cases this is the best sign of innocence: by pretending to not notice.

Unlike myself, Trayvon physically noticed the accusation. He noticed the suspicion and dared to walk toward it. Stare at it, as he spoke with his girlfriend over the phone. Curious, as to who could be staring at him so intently he took a step in Zimmerman’s direction. Staring directly at George Zimmerman before quickly walking away.

When I am walking in strange or dark surroundings I try to keep it moving. No time to stop. I hear my parents’ voice of survival.

You don’t know where this person is coming from.

You don’t know what they want or what they’re trying to get.

They could be trying to get into a fight. They could be trying to rob you. It could be a trap.

Keep it moving. 

A few years ago I was headed home from the library. Two figures came out of a building and began pursuing me. From the corner of my eye, I saw that they were two tall football-muscular men in their 20s. They happened to be White. I keep my eyes on the path. They seemed to be trying to catch me.

I flipped up my collar and continued walking briskly. One of the men came alongside me.

Dude, do you have a lighter?

No, I don’t smoke.

Stupid n-gger.

I continued walking very quickly. This felt like a trap of some sort. I was supposed to react to it. Turn around and get in a fight with two bigger stronger men who seemed worked up about something. I was supposed to turn and scream ‘murder’ or swing at one of them. I was supposed to react and give them something. I picked up my pace and kept walking. I made sure not to run, but I never made eye contact. The goal was to get home. I was not going to be swayed by a ‘word’ that was intended to arouse my rage.

The two men eventually trailed off, seeing that I was unwilling to take the bait. Perhaps they found a Mexican, Asian, or another Black man that night. I wasn’t going to be ‘their one.’

On another occasion a cab driver seemed to go out of his way just so he could spit on my path and give me a murderous look. I was walking down the street carrying my airport luggage.

I could name other incidents of walking while Black: the police slow-downs, pull-overs, suspicious looks. It’s all the same because my reaction has to be measured and numb. I pretend not to notice and keep eyes fixed straight ahead.  Hands out of pockets and swinging along my side. Maybe I’ll start singing. A guilty man wouldn’t sing, would he?

More and more the last few years when I find myself WWB, a sad smile comes across my face. After all these years, you’re still looking for that sign of suspicion. It’s not here. I’m innocent. There is nothing wrong with me. I’m just a Black man out for a walk.

 

  • Tomás Garnett

      “There is nothing wrong with me. I’m just a Black man out for a walk.” This statement puts into words the feelings we’ve all had when we are WWB or in similar situations. It happens every day. I’m sick of being told I’m paranoid. It’s heartening to hear you talk about this. Gracias.

  • Tomás Garnett

      “There is nothing wrong with me. I’m just a Black man out for a walk.” This statement puts into words the feelings we’ve all had when we are WWB or in similar situations. It happens every day. I’m sick of being told I’m paranoid. It’s heartening to hear you talk about this. Gracias.

  • Anonymous

    What is sad is that black males are often the most likely victims of violence and instead of attempting to protect themselves from that they must make every effort to appease and appear docile in the sight of whites and other groups in order to be perceived as less threatening. Instead of viewing a white stranger with suspicion, they are expected to placate and engage the stranger when this person could be a serial killer for all they know, all so that they don’t become suspicious persons themselves. This happens to black women too.

  • Medusa

    This is an excellent article, brief, but very well-written. I already know the perils of WWB, but it just makes me really sad.

  • Arriviste74

     “More and more the last few years when I find myself WWB, a sad smile
    comes across my face. After all these years, you’re still looking for
    that sign of suspicion. It’s not here. I’m innocent. There is nothing
    wrong with me.”

    happens to women too.

  • Anonymous

     Until we are willing to take on mass media for it’s defaming and scandalizing portrayal of black males,
    I’m afraid matters are only going to get worse.  The scary black brute
    is an ongoing trope in American culture.  However, with 24 hour cable
    news accommodated by cop shows, prison shows, reality shows, trash talk shows, court shows, music videos, and conservative radio, the representation of black men is indeed frightful.  The scary black man is an American institution.  Not only am I terrified for my own three brothers, I’m fearful for all.  These Stand Your Ground laws were created with the black male in mind.  Make no mistake about it!

    In Michael Moore’s 2002 movie Bowling for Columbine, he does a wonderful job exposing this racist trend in mass media.

    Here is clip.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NjEoHXEb-s

  • Jackal

    I just wanna say that I’m a white woman who has crossed the street to avoid white fratboys, and walked through a group of black guys without fear.  It’s a horrible fucking problem, but we’re not all in on it.  I wish you many safe walks.

  • KJ

    Excellent article.I go through the same thing.I’ve been stopped by the police while walking. The eolks at arecent exercise class were terrified when I came in. The Black male steretoypes in this country did not end with Obams’s election.They also have deadly consequences as we recently saw.

  • Alicej1979

    This reminds me of that piece by Questlove (also on this site, quite a while ago), basically about how he has to shrink himself and be constantly aware and on alert in order for other people (particularly white women) to feel safe around him because of what American culture tells us about what black men are.
    It makes me so sad that you have to walk on eggshells like an abuse victim, constantly waiting for that shoe to drop.
    I sincerely hope justice is served to George Zimmerman