As I wrote a few days ago, in anticipation of the demise of Open Salon, I installed a Firefox addin, DownThemAll, which promised to "batch download" most of my blog posts at the click of a mouse.
It did. And it also sucked all of them down from Open Salon permanent. I will be reposting them as they were that day, comments and all. What really hurts is that the stats they had--this one had reached over 30000 views--are now wiped out, too.
You may comment again, of course, 'way down at the bottom. But...the damage is done. I just want them all back up here for "history's sake." I do have copies and Google offered up cached versions that I could snatch the html code from.
So here's the Trayvon piece that landed me on Democracy Now, eventually...
Donna Summer does the "Working Girl Beep"
Me, back when I heard that beep 'way too often...
I’m not going to comment on the 911 calls, the police negligence or the firestorm that followed Trayvon Martin’s death.
I’m just going to tell you why I’m not shocked that it happened or that the man who shot Trayvon Martin wasn’t arrested. And why even knowing all that…hearing him screaming for help seconds before he was murdered made me cry bitter tears.
And brought back the memory of another dead black boy, whose mother I knew and still admire for the electrifying and unforgettable lesson she taught us in his name.
I’m just pouring out my soul here, so it’s gonna be kinda ugly. But so is what happened to Trayvon.
“Walking While Black” has been an issue since…slavery. But if you’re black woman walking in certain places at certain times…there’s a little twist to that “offense”. Here are my “walking while black” stories.
And every black woman I know has at least one or two just like them. The sole difference between Trayvon’s story and ours is that we usually live to tell ours. But sometimes…we’re too ashamed…
Working Girl—the gist of it all
This is the basic story. The better stories, variations on this theme, follow.
As a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, I was often out late at night or in the wee hours of the morning covering stories or taking a late shift…whatever the job required. And I lived in a very popular and very congested area of Chicago at the time, where it was nearly impossible to park, even late at night.
So I tended to take cabs or buses—especially in winter when my car was invariably buried in huge drifts of snow. I always stood on relatively busy corners, but I was usually the only woman out so late/early.
But even if there was lots of traffic and people walking or even standing there with me waiting for that bus…I knew it wouldn’t be long before I got the “working girl beep.” Especially if I was well dressed for some sort of gala event or more formal setting…or, actually, even if I wasn’t particularly well dressed.
Black men would beep and wave, or call out a hearty, “Go ‘head, Shorty!” and keep going. Not one ever pulled over. Only white men did that.
If he was a young man driving what he thought was a hot car, he’d ease up to me and give me a little once over and a smile, waiting for me to tip on over and run down my “menu.” IF I hadn’t already started walking toward the next bus stop or back toward my building.
On occasion, I would just look away, and wait and see if I got the, “Oh, what? You too good for me? You think you’re too good for me, (fill in any obscene or insulting racial epithet here)! F*** you, anyway!”
Sometimes, they went into a loud, livid diatribe about how maybe I only liked those big black…well…you get the picture. But whatever they said, I learned to take off running if the streets were really deserted, because they invariably came back to try again and cuss even more if I still ignored them.
Older white guys cruised me nervously and usually did not speak. I always felt as if they were married and either new to cruising or just had better instincts than the younger ones, and knew in their hearts that I wasn’t really “in the life”. So they usually sped off as soon as I turned my gaze away.
But aside from the cussing, I was never actually threatened…or, not with violence. And that leads me to:
The Beverly Hills Hotel incident—followed by another one just like it but ‘way more serious
This first one is one of my favorites. The ones that follow still make my blood boil.
But the “funny” one first.
I was staying at the very famous Beverly Hills Hotel, the Pepto Bismol pink second home to sooooo many stars I won’t even go there right now. Except to add that at the time I was there, wanna be stars used to have themselves paged in the pool area, just so that they could strut their stuff past all the agents and managers and directors and whatnot that hung out there.
It wasn’t cheap, but it was a great place to stay if only because when you told someone you were staying there, they kinda freaked out a little bit. And this one time I was there just to be there—not working, just resting and having an LA adventure without a deadline to meet.
And while I was there, a huge mansion just a couple of blocks away had become the talk of the town. It had been bought by a Middle Eastern billionaire who had promptly painted it a garish green, and had all of the nekked statues around the grounds and fountains made more “true to life,” with flesh colored paint and black pubic hair.
I wish I was kidding. But I’m not. I saw it with my own two eyes.
Because one day, having found out exactly where this house was, I decided to take a stroll and get a good look. And I got there without any problem. I did a slow stroll past the train wreck to get a good look, and then walked a up aways before crossing the street to walk back on the other side of the street, for one last look to confirm that I’d really seen what I’d seen.
And on my way back, I was followed and then stopped by an LAPD cop—I still believe it was because someone saw me and called 911.
He got out and stood in the street by his squad car giving me a pretty icy glare. And then he asked me where if I worked for someone “around here.”
I told him I didn’t.
So he asked me where I was headed.
I told him.
And then he smiled a little. A real smarmy, “NOW, I get it,” smile. And I remembered that a lot of the women in the lobbies and bars of the best hotels were “on the take,” so to speak.
I didn’t smile back.
So he asked me if he called the front desk would they ring my room or…something like that.
I said, “That’s a great idea. Give ‘em a call.”
And when his face turned to stone, I realized I’d made a big mistake.
He explained to me in a very serious voice that a “stranger” walking up and down the streets in that particular neighborhood was always “kinda suspicious.”
And then he walked around the car and leaned against it.
“Can I see some ID?” he asked.
I thanked God then and there that I had brought my wallet along—why I had brought it, I have no idea, but it was in my pocket. So I produced, for his viewing pleasure…
My Chicago Sun Times press card.
He stared at it for a long time, his expression now rather befuddled. I think he was trying to figure out if it was counterfeit or something.
And then he looked up and said, “I call this number, they’ll know you?”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and just said, “That’s another good idea.”
Which…was as bad as rolling my eyes would’ve been. And if I’d been a black male…I probably would’ve been thrown on the car or the ground and handcuffed right about then.
But he was turning really, really red in the face. And he started to explain, without the smirk, that it really was true that people didn’t usually walk around a lot “over this way.” It made people kinda nervous. And of course…it was a woman, walking up and down, so…
I didn’t ask him to complete that thought. But he had another one for me.
“You’re not gonna write about this, right?” he asked me. Sincerely rattled.
It was my turn to do the smirky smile.
I said, “Nah. Probably not.”
The “probably” was just to rattle him a little more. It did.
“Seriously, I just was makin’ sure, you know? These people around here, they get jumpy. “
I didn’t respond to that.
So he said, “I mean…c’mon, you’re not gonna call and tell ‘em…”
I told him it wasn’t that big a deal. And he exhaled...and told me to be careful about “that stuff” from now on, before rushing back to that driver’s seat and pulling away. And even after all that, he went kinda slow until I strutted into the lobby.
Poor thing, I bet he waited a good long while for his boss to call him into his office and give him hell for harassing a reporter. But I kept my word about our little encounter. Until now.
A variation on that theme:
I’ll cut to the chase. I was taking a short cut through a rather wealthy suburb of Chicago on the way back to the Sun Times after a concert, when I stopped at a light, and a squad car “whooped” and pulled up beside me.
The cop pointed to the curb, so when the light changed, I pulled up and over. And he got out, walked up to my window and told me it was kinda late for me to be out driving around. And asked me, with one of those smirky smiles, if I lived “in town here.”
I said, “No,” and he smiled a little more and said, “I didn’t think so.”
He kinda complimented me on my “real sharp” outfit. And then he sort of leaned down ‘way too close to my face, and said, “You know…if you’re nice to me…you can be on your way, no problem.”
I was angrier than I could say or show at that moment. This was the kind of no-win situation no woman wants to be in. And that too many women of color find themselves in far too often.
That’s when I decided not to wait for him to ask for ID. I said, “Look, I’m a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times and I’m reviewing a show--see that press thing on my dash there?”
He craned. And indeed, I did have a press parking pass that I could use to park almost anywhere I wanted when I was on the job.
I also showed him my press card. And given that this was very near Chicago…he got really, really scared. The Sun Times had a reputation for doing exposès on all kinds of corruption in the area. They had even bought a bar and put hidden cameras in it, to catch cops and government officials taking bribes.
So he was sure he was on “candid camera,” too, I think. And he said almost the same thing the other cop had said.
“Aw Jeez. You’re not going to write about this, are you?”
I didn’t have time to play with this one—I had a deadline. So I said, “I’ve got bigger fish to fry, believe me.”
And he was so glad I’d said that that he didn’t even realize that I’d just sort of wised off to him. He told me to drive safely (I love that part) and took off. I checked my mirror a few times to see if he was following me, but he absolutely wanted no trouble.
Walking a dog while black
I should’ve seen this coming. The Oro Valley, AZ police had already questioned my ex-husband one day when he was sitting outside of our apartment waiting for our daughter to come out for a day with Daddy.
When I went outside to find out why Dad was being questioned, I was told that there’d been a few robberies around our way lately and--get ready, because they really do say this—Daddy “…fit the description. Hispanic male, kinda tall…thin…”
“He’s not Hispanic. He’s Hopi,” I said. Which…didn’t really matter since the cop wouldn’t have known the difference, really.
But it caught him up short anyway. And after a few more lame excuses, he looked at our daughter who’d come outside to find out what was going on, and loped back to his squad car and left.
Again, this shouldn’t have surprised me. A few weeks before that, a few of my Hispanic and black students started walking from the “snob school” a few blocks from our apartment hoping to escort me to the championship game they were playing.
They never got there. A cop followed and then stopped them. And when they explained who they were, he glared at them even harder.
But he turned around and headed back toward the school. And the boys were so mad that they played harder than I’d ever seen them play. And they lost because of a strange “problem” with the clock that nullified a final basket.
We did some serious discussions and essays about how males “of color” were treated in neighborhoods like that. They had some incredible stories to tell. And were relieved to be able to tell them to someone who wouldn’t tsk and tell them they were “too sensitive” or too quick to play the “race card.”
So….let me get to the point, finally. I told you this would be ugly.
One morning around 6 a.m., I headed out, as usual, to walk our beloved Pomeranian, now much missed and lovingly remembered, so that I could get back and get my baby up and ready for school and myself ready for work on time.
Because it was still dark at that time of year, I was wearing a t-shirt, baggy pajama bottoms, curlers and some sort of jacket—I don’t remember what kind. And fuzzy slippers, too. Real “sharp outfit,” right?
And about mid-block I was suddenly blinded by a very bright light.
I shielded my eyes and then could make out, in the street just ahead of me, a squad car that had stopped. The cop had turned that big light they have up by the rear view mirror on the driver’s side.
I didn’t stop. I was in no mood to deal with this nonsense at 6 a.m. a few feet from my house.
I let Bijou do her business, turned, and walked back to the house with the light and the car still following me. And then I went into my house and peeked through the blinds. He was still sitting there.
I guess some black woman with curlers, baggy jammies and a toy Pom on a leash had robbed a house recently—who knows?
But by the time I went out to the bus stop with my baby girl and all her pals, and Bijou, too…he was gone.
The Emmett Till connection
So, again, it was no surprise when I heard that a 17-year-old Black kid with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea was shot by a neighborhood vigilante who followed him around the gated community because he looked “suspicious.”
Or that the murderer hadn’t been arrested, despite his history of overstepping his appointed duties—he’d made dozens of similar 911 calls before deciding, this once, not to heed the dispatcher’s warning to stop following the “suspect” and leave it to the police.
His mother has asked the media to stop playing that the 911 call with Trayvon’s terrified cries in the background. But I believe she should follow the lead of my my 5th grade teacher, Mamie Till-Mobley, who made an extraordinary and painful decision when she brought the battered, water-bloated body of her teenage son, Emmett Till, home to rest at last.
She kept the casket open. She wanted the world to see what had been done to her baby boy. Because she knew that one look at that ravaged, misshapen “thing” in the casket would say more about the world in which such things could happen to a teenage boy than any sermon or speech.
We need to hear those bone chilling screams and the shot that killed Trayvon seconds later.
Yes, it’s a parent’s worst nightmare come true.
But it might finally wake the whole world.