Darryl James

*I am condemned.

There is no apparent crime, yet I stand accused of a crime simply for having the nerve to show up.

And I am convicted of the crime of having brown skin, which carries heavy penalties.

This crime carries the penalty of being hated, of being prejudged, of being denied opportunities before I even embrace them and this crime carries the penalty of having the evil and the ignorant pretend that the problem is created at my own hand.

It’s more than apparent when I walk into any room.

All eyes turn to me, watching my every move.

In a store, I may be invisible to the sales person when I need assistance. But I am highly visible to the security who follow me around, looking stupid trying to pretend that I’m not under suspicion. The assumption is made that I won’t make a purchase, but also that I may be a thief.

If two cars are speeding on the freeway, it is almost a cinch that my car will be followed.  I am a born suspect and typically will be racially profiled.

I hear oblivious people proclaiming that racism has evaporated.  “It’s the new millennium,” they say, as if the passage of time automatically erodes ignorance and stereotypes.

But after the passage of time, only some of the more overt evidence of racism becomes less conspicuous. There is still the prejudging that is tainted with negative racial bias.

My mood is often misinterpreted, or subject to projection based on preconceived notions.  People assign moods to me largely based on what they were already thinking I should be feeling.

I am told to “calm down,” or to “take it easy,” when I am generally not upset or angry.

In elevators, purses are clutched.  Women walking alone on streets during the daytime nervously peer at me out of the corners of their eyes.  At night, they cross the street.

With my head cleanly shaved, I have been told that I look hostile.

Some of my brothers far above six feet are told that they are imposing and threatening.

We are angry, potentially violent thugs who need to be jailed, even though we may really be happy, mild-mannered and productive members of society.

Some of my sisters are assumed to have “attitudes,” even when they are completely pleasant.

The darker the skin and the more natural the hairstyle, the worse the reaction.

They are promiscuous and evil Sapphires, even though they may be sweet and morally sound.

The world decides who we are before we give any clues as to our disposition or the content of our character.

And, so we either wear masks, or we practice blank game faces.

In business meetings, I wear the faces that I have spent years practicing.  I have learned to let my facial muscles fall loose so that I have no expression. I have learned to relax my lips because even holding them pensively can be misinterpreted as anger. I learned early on that if I tried to force an expression, I would only end up looking silly as opposed to harmless.

These things I do because all eyes are on me. And those eyes are searching for evidence of things that more than likely do not exist.

Sometimes, I’m having a great day, feeling good, when someone asks me what is wrong.

And, it’s not just other races.

Many times, we prejudge each other, falling right into the same stereotypes that the media and popular entertainment promulgates about Black people.

We are quick to avoid those “young thugs” with their pants falling off of their butts, even though they are probably college students who are nice to their grandmothers. After all, it is a “known fact” that “most” Black men are in prison or looking for their next victim.

We are quick to talk poorly about those “hoes” with their butt-cracks showing or their breasts pushed to the sky, even though they are wives, daughters and sisters who are more than likely simply following the fashion trends.  But, it is a “known fact” that Black girls are “easier,” and dress in a sexual manner to tease and invite.

Many of us look at the handful of us around and claim that “all” or “most” of us are doing something that we think we saw, but never asked to confirm. We decide what poor behavior is prevalent without conducting or reviewing one survey. And, we assume that whatever poor behavior we have assigned to our community is only “Black” behavior, because, after all, “that’s what Niggers do.”

Sometimes, my own sisters hesitate to return my greeting.  I frequently remind myself to smile first and say “hello” after I know my facial expression is softer. I do this, because I realize that many of them, too, are wearing masks intentionally for protection, or unintentionally for the same reasons my facial expressions tend to lie.

And, sometimes, it’s hard for us to talk to each other, because we come into the discussion with ideas of how the other person thinks–real or imagined.  I unleash my views with strength and some Black women who have no idea what a man is supposed to be accuse me of hating them as a group, assigning their own thoughts and feelings of persecution to me, even though they are not remotely my own.

In an old song from the seventies, Earth Wind & Fire mused: “Ain’t if funny how the way you feel shows on your face?”  They claimed that: “No matter how you try to hide it, it’ll state your case.”  But sometimes, that case can be misstated.

The most oppressed race on the planet is also the most revered and the most feared, which is why we are judged–prejudged and misjudged–assigned feelings, actions and thoughts based on preconceived notions held by the beholder, typically without any current action or words from us at the time.

I stand accused.

The jury is never out for long.  I am judged, convicted and sentenced to whatever thoughts and feelings people imagine I possess, based on their own tortured minds, hearts and souls. These things they do without bothering to take even a cursory look into my own heart, mind or soul.

My only sin is the skin I’m in.

Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.”  James’ stage play, “Love In A Day,” opens in Los Angeles this Spring. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at [email protected].