Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Don't Be Afraid of Black People!"

Culture & Society ---

[You don't know him; you've never met him, but you fear him.] 
An extraordinarily creative sales pitch!  I don't believe I have heard any better.  "Don't be afraid of black people!" he cried, on a busy Tuesday afternoon as he offered a handshake to the white woman passing by, one of many tourists inundating New York City's Times Square.  He was young, black, an oversized baseball cap covering his braided hair, wearing a white tank top that did justice to his well-toned, tattooed upper body, with a pair of knee-length, denim pants hanging well below his hips and over-exposing light-grey checkered underpants, and in a pair of red, unlaced sneakers.  For some, he was representative of certain sub-culture of black youth, and for others he represented someone to be feared.  As he sold his CDs on crowded Broadway, this young, black man was conscious that he (and his people) was an object of fear to some people.  "Don't be afraid of black people!" he cried as he offered his hand to the white, middle-aged couple passing by.  The man continued on his way, but the woman, at first calculatingly hesitant, stopped and nervously returned the handshake to prove, I suppose, that she was not afraid of black people.  Presumably, she was about to respond, "No, I am not afraid of black people," but before she could respond, the young man followed up with, "How are you, and where are you from?" I do not know if the young man was able to complete his sale. There is a good chance that he did, for he got the woman to stop and to engage with him.  But the young man's words still hang provocatively in the Times Square air and hopefully in the consciousness of those to whom it may concern.   There is something profoundly sad and heart-rending in those words, strongly underlying the reality that there are people out there who hate me and fear me even though they do not know who I am or have never met me.

[Photographic Art by Ric Couchman]