Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Scary Man

A black man was shot in Florida. A kid really. Wearing a hoodie, buying skittles not to far from his home. Unarmed. The man who shot him was Hispanic. Everybody is crying racism. 
I doubt it. 
Race had something to do with it I'm sure, but I don't think it's as simple as racism. I think it's from a different way of looking at the other man, a way where the man is suddenly a threat before anything else, a kind of Anton's blindness that prevents people from seeing what's in front of them. A teenager with skittles becomes a threat. A danger. A terror that has to be stopped, lethal. I, of course, don't know for sure if this is what happened in Florida a few weeks ago, since few details have come out. But I doubt the calls for racism and wonder if it is this other thing.

I'll call it the Scary Man syndrome, which is distinct from racism.

I've seen it before. My roommate in college told me an experience so bizarre at first I thought he was pulling my leg, but after walking the world a bit, I'm inclined to believe him.

His freshman year my roommate was clean cut, his facial hair had not come out totally yet and he was sporting a kid n' play afro. He looked extremely young so at one point later, he shaved his head and grew a beard. But before this transformation and still during his first year, he befriended a fellow female classmate, with whom he lost contact as was common in those pre-facebook, pre-mobile phone days. Three years later, coming back from either his night job or the 'Wa, he happened upon her again. So he approached her to say hi, and got promptly maced in the face. Ouch.

When I was 16 years old I spent a summer studying in Harvard. Being my first  time living away from home I found it exhilarating and challenging on many levels. One night I decided to volunteer at the homeless shelter. I looked where the shelter was, in a Church on the outside of Cambridge and not judging the distance from the map well, I decided to walk there rather than taking the bus. It was a bit farther than I though, and a bit colder than I thought so I zipped up my hand-me down leather jacket form Tito and sped up my pace.

About halfway through I hit a very desolate patch of street. Far enough from Harvard square to be completely still at night, I was the only one walking and I started feeling a bit scared about it. Then I saw an old black woman way ahead of me and wanting the company I walked a bit faster to reach her. Then she looked behind her and started walking faster. My senses got alerted I looked behind me. Nobody there. Look ahead and she looks behind her again and starts walking fast in a bit of a panic toward the bus stop. Now I'm sincerely frightened. Maybe I looked so quick I didn't see anybody and now looking back would make me look like a target, someone afraid. So I sped up even more, walking about as fast as my Boy Scout hiking-trained legs could take me and steeling myself for the worse. I turned to my already learned technique of using car's mirrors and store window panes to catch glimpses behind me. Again I saw nothing but an empty street. So I hazard a look. Nobody there. Empty. And then it dawned on me: She was scared of me! Me, a skinny sixteen year old, thousands of miles away from anyone I knew. The woman reached the well-lit bus stop and stayed nervous. The bus arrived and she got in like a mad woman, as I passed in complete amazement at what had just happened.  I didn't realize how tense I'd gotten. My hands un-clenched inside my jacket. I smiled and shook my head and continued towards the church.

Lately something similar happened again when an old female friend said I was "scary" all of a sudden for repeatedly trying to get in contact with her. And it made me think of these instances, particularly my college roommate's.

How can someone go from friend to threat in the eyes of another person?

Surprisingly it may have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the other person. And as when I got scared from the lady in front of me scared of me, scared people look even more suspicious. I know I would be scared if a guy was following me around, especially if I thought he had a gun. Would I feel threatened? I don't know.

But it all starts with that scary man syndrome where what's in-front of you: your old college buddy, a scared sixteen-year old, or a friend trying to get a hold of you, all become something else in your mind.

Race got nothing to do with it. My roommate's friend didn't see what was in-front of her, and the old lady didn't see the boy walking behind her. None of them saw what was in-front of them. Period. Their fear blinded them. And scared people can do strange things.

He could have been Chinese, if he elicited the fear, race wouldn't have mattered.

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