If you're outside New York you may not have heard, in Brooklyn a homeowner decided it would be a great idea to hang a dreadlocked dummy from a tree by a noose. Well, because of public outcry, it has been removed. I'm not going into the specifics of the article, but you can read it below. However, the article brought back memories from long ago and a connection I'd never made between my first awareness of my race as dangerous, and my decision to grow locs.
Annually at least one person in the US decides racism is dead enough to be used as a Halloween joke. I was working on some footer code the other day, and was horrified to see Google Ad sense put a Rastaween ad on the front page of Loc'd Glory. Rasta hats and masks are a staple of Halloween stores and worn by teens and collage kids nationwide. So why was I offended? Because for me, having locs is part of whom I am and I am not a joke.
A few months before I started my first set of locs, when I was still wearing a baldy, I went on a first date with a Rastafarian I met at school. Growing up sheltered in a white and Hispanic area, I hadn't come into contact with my own racial identity yet. I'd been teased and bullied horribly as a child but blocked the racial nature. I'd also never spoke to police outside the "police are your friends" programs at school. The first step toward a healthy racial identity, according to Cross Theory of Racial Identity, is to be confronted with racial awareness. My first true awareness came at gunpoint on a first date.
We'd gone for coffee and when he asked for a ride home I elated for a little more time with this gorgeous man. We were driving north on the street in front of my college. This street is crowded and has several flashing crosswalks to the point of confusion. To this day, it's a very deadly street. As I drove north, I saw a police car driving south turn on its lights and speed up. I was north. The police car was south. I thought "somebody's getting pulled over." I turned right onto a side street to let my date out in front of his apartment. Suddenly I heard yelling and a sniper rifle was pointed at me through my open window.
My mother taught me well. I was polite and kept my hands on the wheel, but I was shaking. I kept asking why we were pulled over while they drug my date the rest of the way out of the car. I prayed the entire time they searched him. They wouldn't tell me why we were pulled over and kept pointing rifle gun at me. Finally they let my date go and he did everything but run home. The other officer lowered the gun a little.
"Didn't you see us pulling you over?"
"No, you were on the other side of the street. I thought you were pulling over someone on that side"
"Why did you stop?"
"Because my date lives here and I was taking him home" I took a breath. "Why did you pull me over?"
"You have a broken headlight."
Because of a broken headlight, I have a permanent fear of police officers. Because I looked like a young bald black man in a car with a loc'd black man... I spent minutes, which felt like hours, staring into a rifle. The entire time I knew, if I so much as sneezed I would be dead. These memories are still fresh and this is what people who believe racial cohesion is the norm don't understand. For them, racism is dead. For them, a Rasta hat is a just a cute costume. For me, it's a memory and a risk I consciously take. I started my locs 6 months after that experience and my date... never called me again.