Sunday night I was walking home from the train, slowly. It was 11 p.m. I was tired. I was going to walk into my apartment, stumble into my room, drop my bag, fall into bed. It was going to be really good. I couldn’t wait.
A few blocks from the station, I noticed there was a man walking a few feet behind me. I was aware of him because I am a woman, and when you are walking in the dark, you notice the other people on the block, and where they are in relation to you. I had been listening to music on the train. I’d pulled one earphone out as I entered into the night, street smarts, safety. When I noticed the man behind me, I took both out. I didn’t turn around but I did turn my head enough to see him in my periphery. Tall, large, broad shouldered. Black. That’s all I got. I kept my pace.
New York recently ran an essay by Questlove about all the times people have crossed streets or held purses tighter when they are around him, even in the elevator of his building. He says he understands, he’s a large guy, he must look scary, but it hurts, it must. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to speed up when there’s a black man walking behind me, don’t want to instinctively hold my purse tighter. And so I consciously don’t speed up, don’t change my bag to my other arm. Sometimes I walk through the housing projects near my house instead of going around them, for the same reason. I don’t want to walk around them.
We live in a racist society. I have some racist instincts. I want to ignore those instincts, to shut them down.