Just the other day I was at Publix picking up things at the deli when I experienced yet another “purse clutching” episode.
What’s a purse clutching episode? It’s when a black or brown male gets racially profiled by someone who says or does something stupid out of racist paranoia in a misguided effort to prevent an expected crime.
In this particular instance the deli was more crowded than normal. Probably 10-12 people, with numbers in their hands, were waiting their turns. I walked up to the number dispenser, which was pretty much in the middle of the all-white crowd.
As I took a number from the dispenser, the woman standing beside it nervously cut her eyes at me and fudged a bit to her left, while at the same time saying to her young daughter, “Stay near Amber.”
“Stay near Amber?” I thought to myself. ”There are a dozen people here. You think I’m brazen or desperate enough to snatch your daughter!?”
Stay near Amber?! I seriously doubt she had told her daughter to stay close when any of those white folks approached and took a number.
I was quietly furious. “Stay near Amber!?” I repeatedly thought to myself, growing angrier with each repetition. I was on the verge of saying, “Lady, nobody wants you or your damned daughter. Hell, I’m more into purse snatching!”
But I didn’t. I sucked it up and pretended I didn’t notice like I’ve done hundreds of times, going back to the time when I was 12 or 13 and a little white boy who saw me, pointed a finger and blurted out, “Mommy, mommy...it’s a n****r!"
That kid acted like he was really excited about seeing a black person, like you’d expect somebody might get excited about seeing a man from Mars. Who knows? Maybe I was the first black person he’d seen since the weekend lynching.
I don’t know what it is about black people, but many whites seem to have this strange combination of fear and fascination with us. You might think I’m being paranoid, but this happens to me often enough to recognize it as my ongoing reality.
It never stops. I suffer through 5 or 6 moments like that a month. And oddly–-perhaps surprisingly–-enough, a few of the “purse clutchers” are fellow black people. Regardless of their race, I always graciously ignore them, but as I get older ignoring them and being gracious gets harder and harder.
I really don’t know how I’ve managed to maintain my composure in the face of all the purse clutching incidents I’ve experienced. I seriously wonder how black and brown men all over America, perhaps the world, keep their cool while continuously facing similar situations. It’s a wonder more brothers don’t just snap and explode hourly. Then again, maybe they do.
I see myself as a level-headed guy…but one more purse clutching episode and I just might explode–-and then get publicly labeled as the thug I’d already been prejudged to be. I imagine there are a few brothers who think, “Hey, if you’re going to treat me like a thug, I might as well earn the title.”
The vast majority of brothers just want to live peacefully, bothering nobody. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the racial profiling. And while the profilers are busy prejudging and watching me and other law-abiding black and brown males, the Ted Bundys of the world are literally getting away with murder.
Too bad. The purse clutchers only have themselves to blame.