It is always a strange and unfamiliar territory when one is transitioning from one thing to another—be it a relationship, home, city, or job. And, in my case, the transition from a small HBCU (Historically Black College or University) to a large state university (PWI-predominately white institution) is no different. It’s strange because I once walked this campus in the pursuit of two degrees and a Literature certification. I walked this campus racking up numerous graduate hours in Education. I once walked this campus stockpiling Doctoral hours in English, yet upon my return, it all seemed alien to me.
Having taught for over half a decade, six years to be exact, at a predominately Black college, and when I say “predominately”, I mean during my tenure there I saw maybe eight or nine white students and never taught any of them, I had resided in a Black vacuum of Negro culture. Sure, aggressive commentary, behavior, and bodily gestures were oft times prevalent, but what I experienced today on this white campus was different. It reeked of pale privilege (insert white privilege). It took me back to my elementary, middle, and high school days. It transported me at warp speed to the subtle prejudice and racism I endured growing up in a Southern white suburb on the outskirts of the chocolate city of Memphis.
First of all, I must inform you of my sojourn to campus the day before my paranoia set in. Yesterday, I came to campus to meet with the Director of Writing just to bounce around some ideas pertaining to the courses I would be teaching. When I arrived on campus, I parked in the lot reserved for a white fraternity. The lot was literally their frat house’s lot. I knew it was forbidden, yet I parked there anyway because on a campus of more than twenty thousand students, parking is always hard to find. I met with the director for fifteen to twenty minutes, went back to the lot, cranked up my vehicle, and made my exodus. But, on today, I decided to park in the frat house’s lot again because I knew I’d only be there for ten or fifteen minutes top. I came to sign some paperwork, submit a voided check to payroll, and pick up my textbooks for instruction.
Today was different. I pulled into their lot and parked. I exited my vehicle, pressed my alarm, and walked across the street. In mid gait, I heard a voice holler, “Hey! Hey!” I turned around to see a beer-bellied frat boy with his hat turned backwards. We both displayed orbital recognition, then, he yelled, “You can’t park here!” I immediately turned around and headed back to the lot to move my car and find another place to park. I watched him as he walked back into the fraternity house and thought no more of it. Then, a bigger frat member comes out of the frat house. And by “bigger”, I mean 6’4” and about 240 pounds of the lard that Southern cooking and beer puts on a man—you know, Mike Brown of Ferguson, Missouri big. He walked toward the parking area and says, “Hey, boss. You can’t…” and before he could say “park here”, I frowned and said, “I’m not your boss, man.” I unlocked my car and saw him turn and walk back into the house and hear him murmur, “Boss, you can’t park here.” I replied in a louder tone, “Don’t do that, dude. Don’t come at me with that ‘boss’ shit.” He continued into the house and I turned on my automobile and left—upset.
I left because I felt that Black and white Americans are on edge. Is it because of the Mike Brown murder/Ferguson uprising? Is it because of the racial tension that has been boiling and stewing over since 1619? You make the call. But, I felt some type of way about my small incident (if it was even an “incident” at all). I didn’t feel it was necessary to be told twice that I couldn’t park there. I felt some type of way about the tone in which both of these frat boys spoke to me. I wasn’t a student. I wasn’t a passerby. I may even be their professor come next week. But, how would they know that? I wasn’t dressed like a professor. (however a professor dresses.) I didn’t have a huge medallion hanging from my neck saying “I’M A PROFESSOR”. But what I did have on was a costume of Blackness that I’ve adorned since March of 1978 when I escaped from my mother’s womb. What I did have on was a costume of Blackness that seems to garner disrespect, subjugation, subordination, castigation, and condescension in the good ole U.S. of A. What I did have on was a uniform of Blackness that seems to create fear, trepidation, and wariness from non-Black Americans. What I did have on was a cloak of Blackness that says “Nigger” (with the –er). To them, and even to me, I was a nigger. A nigger who was parking in a place that I wasn’t supposed to park. To me, and to them, I imagine, I was still a nigger.