Barack Obama released this big shiny squirrel at the daily White House presser:
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
I am a white man. I have been white all my life. I mean really, really white. Both my parents were white too. In my family we don’t tan, we freckle. I have blue eyes and when I still had hair it was light brown in color. My kids and grandkids all have blue eyes. The only people whiter than us are albinos.
I am not as tall as Obama but I’m taller than average. I have one of those “bitchy resting faces” so when I forget to smile I look angry, even when I’m not. I generally dress like a slob unless I’m working or on a date or something. I have friends in low places and I like to wear Raiders shirts and hats, just like some gangsters do.
In other words, some people find me a little intimidating when they first see me. People either think I’m a cop or a crook. That comes in handy working security because few people want to start trouble with me, which saves me the trouble of getting beat up.
I have had women clutch their purses tighter and eye me nervously when they see me approaching. I have had people lock their car doors when they see me. I have been followed by security in department stores. Not once did I think it was racism.
But I have also worked retail security. That’s why I laugh when I hear black people complaining they get followed in department stores. Guess what? If you shop in a store that uses floorwalkers in plain clothes for security then you have probably been followed a few times.
If you work an 8-hour shift you will follow lots of different people. In some stores, most of the customers are black. So are the security guards. So are the rest of the employees.
Mostly I worked in an office where I could watch the whole store via CCTV. When you do that you don’t watch the people, you watch the merchandise that gets stolen the most. After a while you learn to spot common mannerisms of shoplifters. But the really good ones you’ll only catch if you happen to be looking at them when they do their thing.
The first shoplifter I ever caught was a 62 year old Japanese woman who cried and begged me to let her go when I grabbed her. She was a professional with a long record. The youngest shoplifter I ever caught was age 7, the oldest was 86. They were white, brown, black, Asian, Arab, rich, poor, young and old. One guy was in a wheelchair.
I remember the first black guy I arrested. I watched him stuff two pneumatic tools in the front of his pants then walk out of the store. When I busted him he said, “It’s because I’m black, right?” I had to bite my lip to keep from saying, “That’s right, we let white people steal anything they want.”
One time I had somebody tell me how they were followed by security a few days earlier at a certain local store. I laughed because that was the store where I worked and I was the only person working security and it wasn’t me following them. I have also had people think I was security at places I did not work. I was not following anybody, I was there shopping!
Here is my advice to anyone who thinks security is watching them: Don’t steal anything. Just do your shopping and leave. Give the guard (if it really is a guard) a break. He’s just doing his job.
If people react nervously when they see you approaching, don’t take offense. Glaring angrily at them won’t make things any better. Have some sympathy and understanding.
Last but not least, if someone gives you a dirty look don’t take it personal or assume it’s racism. It might just be bitchy resting face.