In a Facebook post that is quickly spreading like wildfire, David Summers, a black man, describes in poetic and stunning detail what it means to be a black person in a white space.
As a white person reading his post, I found myself feeling incredibly angry at what this man goes through just to go on a walk in a neighborhood.
And then I realized, I am part of the problem.
“I took a black walk this morning. I took a black walk through a white neighborhood. When I take black walks, I think black thoughts. I am conscious of where I’ve placed my gun, my gun, and my gun. I mean, my phone, my wallet, and my keys,”
“Because Peace Officers have a hard time telling the difference. I rehearse what I’ll say if a concerned resident or a law enforcement employee has questions about why my black body is walking through their white space. And I remind myself to make sure the law enforcement employee has his body camera recording. Sometimes it helps if there is video evidence to accompany the hashtag.”
The post moves through shocking imagery to reveal the underlying daily fears and anxiety that a person of color experiences doing things that a white person also does (like taking a walk) but without the same level of fear.
“There is no way to be stealthy when you take a black walk. White neighborhoods are blanketed by a sophisticated security system comprised of nosy neighbors, Ring doorbell cameras, and white women walking their dogs,” he writes.
“So, I’ve learned to notice the white world through my periphery. To be aware of the dangers without acknowledging them. There is an art to making white people feel safe.”
Summers then gives graphic details about the moment when he realizes that he is being followed by a police squad car.
His experience is not one that I – a white person – has ever had and that is exactly the point here.
This is a message of astonishing candid honesty that does not sugar coat the reality of how Summers experiences his own neighborhood. He writes:
“‘Don’t take your hands out of your pockets,’ I thought. Or wait, maybe I should? Maybe it’s better if my hands are clearly empty. But it’s cold outside…maybe it’s nothing. Keep walking.”
In this description, we can read the uncertainty of what may unfold. Will the police car stop Summers simply for being out for a walk? Will the police arrest him? Will they hurt him?
It is a very uncomfortable read.
The part that spoke loudest to me was his final note on the experience that he had missed out on.
He didn’t hear the birds. He didn’t see the squirrels or the trees. He couldn’t notice the sky or the beauty of any nature around him. He was too focused on making sure that he was safe. To close out the post, Summer writes:
“I took a walk through a beautiful neighborhood this morning. But I missed the whole thing.”
The post has been shared 19K times and has attracted more than 4K comments. Give the full post a read and really listen to what Summers is telling us about racism and about white privilege.
I took a black walk this morning. I took a black walk through a white neighborhood. When I take black walks, I think…
Posted by David Summers on Monday, February 24, 2020
Sadly, I’ve experienced this in every detail.
While out for jogs and walks in the neighborhoods I lived, people have felt free to yell out slurs and profanities. While walking my young child in a stroller to the community park to feed the ducks, policemen have stopped me to “check on complaints.” While driving our large truck to maternity appointments, I’ve been stopped, ticketed, harassed simply because I was in the wrong place and “looked wrong driving a pickup truck.”
Neighbors have told my husband, as though he can relate since he is also white, I must be ok because I’m not really black since my name is Spanish. Although they were extremely concerned by the newer, darker element moving into our area. People have felt free to stop and ask why I was in their neighborhood while I was visiting clients during work. Several people have asked if the car I was driving was really mine.
Almost daily, without exaggeration, people consistently “remember” to lock their car doors as soon as they make eye contact with me or glimpse my caramel complexion. Women who have left their purses in shopping carts suddenly remember to add them to their shoulders when I reach for the carton of eggs. I live in the same area, shop at the same stores, work in the same buildings, and many times drive the same or better cars.
Sometimes it’s subtle, many times it’s blatant. But from country roads to suburban cul de sacs, big city streets to shopping center parking lots racism is alive and well. My in laws didn’t believe it until they had to pick me up from jogs on quads, accompany me to court for tickets, hear the comments said before they were seen with me, or hear people ask if my children were indeed mine.
No level of education, wealth, or sophistication is enough to get over the initial glimpse of dark skin.
And because if it, we all miss can miss out on the surrounding beauty.