Below is a small collection of self-portraits about the encounters of racism that don't get televised. Racism has become somewhat romanticized, and we only pay attention when it exists in the form of police brutality or the KKK. All from my perspective, each portrait is paired with moments from past conversations and daily situations throughout my life. I’m showing how the micro-aggressions Black people face on a daily basis are anything but that. My experience is not isolated, but these specific instances are my own. This work not only empowers Black people to use their voices, but also builds an understanding that change begins with the everyday. There are twenty-six portraits in the full collection, however this is far from my full story. I won’t be sharing everything—I don’t have time for all that.


"I never noticed you were black until you started talking about race.”


“Why do I have to stop saying the n-word? You can use cracker if you want, I don’t mind.”


“You don’t sound black.”


“Your hair looks so cool. May I...?”


“Why can’t we have a White History Month?”


“You’re so articulate.”


“Look! I’m almost as dark as you.”


“If you work hard enough you can do whatever you want now. Just look at Obama.”


After spending some time with a good friend of mine, I stayed out pretty late - around 12:30 or so - and needed some gas before heading home. I noticed I was being followed out of the neighborhood by a black truck. I figured they just needed gas too but soon realized they had other plans. There were two white men inside the truck. They pulled up beside me when I heard them say “You don’t belong out here, do you? Where are you going?” like it was their business. I ignored them and they asked again. “Can you hear me?”. That time I responded telling them that I’d had a long night and wanted to go home. I guess they were interested in where I lived too. I left the gas station but didn’t want to drive straight home in fear of putting myself or anyone else in danger, so I just drove. They followed, about 3 feet behind my car for what felt like an hour or more before they gave up and I could finally head home. Once I got home, I stayed up that entire night wondering what their motive was. Scary stuff.


“I can say it if it’s in a song, right?”


“You’re an Oreo:

Black on the outside, white on the inside.”


I didn’t get my first black hoodie until my second or third year in college. I wasn’t nervous to wear one because of how they looked—I actually liked the look and always wanted one—but because of the perception they carry when worn by black men. Once you put on that hoodie, your identity is masked and you instantly become a threat, a suspect, a criminal...your status as a human is revoked. You fit every description in police reports perfectly, frankly because those are the only people who were being looked for. So the decision to take that out of my wardrobe was a means of survival. In a place that’s already working against me in so many ways, I had to pick and choose my battles. For the longest time, that was another battle I reluctantly chose not to fight.


“Slavery is over. Why are you still talking about racism?”


“It’s too dark outside - Smile so I can see you!”


The amount of times I’ve seen people have grab their purse, lock their car doors, revert eye contact, move their child to the other side of them, or even chose to walk across the street because I was approaching them…


Back in high school I felt there was a lack of emphasis on learning about black history outside of brown vs board and the civil rights amendments. My senior year I decided to shed some light on the black icons that didn’t make it into the class lessons, so everyday throughout the month of February I created fact sheets with important black figures and hung them on my teachers’ entry doors. Around the tenth or eleventh day in, I was hanging up info about Langston Hughes when a white student asked me in front of the class “Why are you wasting your time hanging these up? Everything we need to know about black history is in our textbooks.”


“You gotta admit, sometimes it’s hard to tell black people apart.”


“I don’t see color so at least I’m on the right track.”


“I like you. You’re one of the ‘good ones’.”


“Well of course you’re faster...”

...and can jump higher, and are better at basketball, and...


“No, where are you really from?”


Back in high school, I used to regularly do homework with a good friend of mine, who was a white woman. One day I asked if we could work at her house. Very reluctantly, she agreed as long as we worked outside on the porch. A little later, her dad came home from work. When he stepped out of his car, he paused and looked at me for a moment before entering the house with no greeting. It was odd, but I figured he was just being protective over his daughter. I went inside to use the restroom when he stopped me and said “Son, you need to leave my property right now, and don’t come back here again.” The look in his eyes let me know that this had nothing to do with me being a boy around his daughter. So I packed my things and told my friend I had somewhere to be. It was one of the last times we had ever spoken to one another.


A few of us were watching the news one night and saw that George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin when one of my white friends said, “Oh! Well maybe he did do something to deserve it. We weren’t there.”


“The police are just doing their job, why are you making is a race thing?”


During one of my last years in college, my friends were hosting a tailgate on top of a parking garage. It was homecoming season so everyone was pretty amped up. I didn’t feel like drinking that but still wanted to have a good time with my friends, so I decided to come along and be the DD so I could get everyone home safely once it was time to go. It was a mostly white group, and I was the only black person there. After a few hours, things settled down and we started packing things up in my friend’s truck. As I was driving everyone out of the garage, a police officer stopped me and asked “Where are you taking these people?” I told him “home, sir.” He said, “I don’t think you’re fit to drive right now. Somebody else needs to take the wheel.”

I explained to him that I was the ONLY one fit to drive in this situation and even asked him to give me the tests to prove it: breathalyzer, walking line test, you name it. My friends were also advocating for me. The more I ‘resisted’, the more angry he became. Eventually, he put his hand on the door handle and made me step out of the truck. He then picked someone at random from the back seat—who were all still drunk, mind you —and told them to drive everyone home. He then looked back at me and asked “Do you live around this campus? Then you can go ahead and walk home.” At this point, safety was the last thing on the officer’s mind, he was only focused on using his power against me. Understanding the moment, I complied in fear that things would escalate and this day potentially ending with me on the ground. So I started walking back home. A couple of my friends were hip to what took place, got out of the truck and walked back home with me. I’ll admit, that walk back was quietest it had been that entire night. We had nothing else to say after what took place.


Black people. The healing can start now. We have to be open about the daily pain we go through so that we can better understand how to move forward and our allies (I prefer co-conspirators) can have the perspective to help. It’s gonna take everybody to get through this - we’ve got some real work to do but it’s worth it. The symbolic gestures only go so far. The biggest impact comes from the small everyday occasions that everyone contributes to. So share your stories, continue to lead conversations. If you need help we got you. People are finally listening.

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