Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

How to configure Ubuntu's keyboard to work like a Mac's

Typing accents on a PC is a complicated Alt + three numbered code affair. One feels like a sorcerer casting a spell. "I summon thee accented é! I press the weird magical key Alt, and with 0191 get the flipped question mark!" For a bilingual person this meant that writing on the computer was a start-and-stop process. With Mac's it a whole lot easier, just Alt + e and the letter you wanted for accents and alt + ? for the question mark. No need to leave the keyboard for the number pad and no need to remember arcane number combinations or have a paper cheat sheet next to the keyboard, as I've seen in virtually every secretaries computer in Puerto Rico.

Linux has a interesting approach to foreign language characters: using a compose key. You hit this key which I typically map to Caps Lock and ' and the letter you want and voilá you get the accent. Kinda makes sense: single quotation mark is an accent, double gets you the ümalaut, works pretty well. Except for the ñ, wh…

Contrasting Styles of Writing: English vs. Spanish

There is interestingly enough a big difference between what's considered good writing in Spanish and English. V.S. Naipul winner of the 2001 Nobel prize for literature publish an article on writing. In it he emphasizes the use of short clear sentences and encourages the lack of adjectives and adverbs. Essentially he pushes the writer to abandon florid language and master spartan communication. This is a desired feature of English prose, where short clipped sentences are the norm and seamlessly flow into a paragraph. In English prose the paragraph is the unit the writer cares about the most.

This is not the case in Spanish where whole short stories (I'm thinking this was Gabriel Garcia Marquez but maybe it was Cortázar) are written in one sentence. Something so difficult to do in English that the expert translator could best manage to encapsulate the tale in two sentences. The florid language is what is considered good writing in Spanish but unfortunately this has lead to what …

Fixing Autocomplete in Github's Atom Text Editor for Ruby

I really like Github's Atom Text Editor. I really like that it's multi-platform allowing me to master one set of skills that is transferable to all platforms and all machines. 

On thing that just burns me of the default set-up in Atom is the Autocomplete feature that seems to change my words as a type them. Because Ruby uses the end of line as a terminus for a statement you usually finish a word with pressing the return button and you get really annoying changes to your finished typed word a la MS Word. I find myself yelling "No that's not what I wrote!" at the screen in busy coffee shops.

I disabled autocomplete for a while but it is a very useful function. Then I found out they changed the package that gave the autocomplete to a new one called "Autocomplete Plus" that gives you more options. All that I needed to change to make autocomplete sane again:

1. Open Atom's Preferences
2. Search the bundled packages for "Autocomplete Plus"

3. Go to t…