Anti-bias “bling”: Accessories to avoid racist encounters
First published by The Theater Offensive in 2013
The perception that people of color are a threat to safety and security often results in being not-so-inconspicuously followed in stores, watching as purses are quickly shifted from one arm to another, being “randomly” selected for extra TSA screening, or being “stopped and frisked.” There are, however, a few ways to mitigate this effect, and so I give you this list of “Must-Haves for People of Color Who are Just Trying to Get Home.” Keep one or more of these items on you at all times, and you just may increase your chances of making it all the way to your front door unfrisked, unquestioned, unpursued, unfled, and unshot.
Accessory #1: Didgeridoo
On three separate occasions in Australia, I was mistaken for Aboriginal. That’s when it struck me. “What if my compatriots on any given city street in the US thought I was Native Australian?” Would their sense of “exoticizing liberalness” save me from being perceived as a threat? What if I just carried a didgeridoo with me wherever I went?
This works best in liberal enclaves, especially ones where on any given day a spontaneous circle of hippie conga drummers might erupt. This doesn’t work, however, if you’re actually in Australia. Then you’ll just find that the white people there treat aboriginal people and other racial minorities the same way that white people in the US do. In Australia, walking around with a basketball and a Lakers jersey might actually work in your favor. It also doesn’t work in the parts of the US with the deepest histories of lynching. There you’ll just be a nigger with a stick and probably save some small-town Sheriff the trouble of having to find something to beat you with.
Accessory #2: Baby Björn
Stick a Cabbage Patch doll in a baby carrier and you’ll end up strolling through places you never thought possible. Don’t get me a wrong; you’ll still be remarkable, but instead of being that guy who’s probably up to no good, you’ll be seen as the admirable Black, Latino, or Native father who is “actually taking care of [at least one of] his kids.” Don’t be surprised if you receive a few smiles and the occasional “Good for you!” Before you get offended at the condescending praise remember, you could be spread eagle on the hood of a cop car right now.
This may not work if you’re Arab or perceived as Arab. For you, my brother, strapping anything to your body is probably a bad idea.
Accessory #3: Yoga mat
Sling a rolled-up yoga mat in a strap across your shoulder, and you’re good to go. If people think you’re on your way to a Hatha or Kundalini class they’ll see you as grounded, spiritual, and rich, and no one is going to fear for their safety as you pass by them on the sidewalk. “But what if I’m miles from a yoga studio?” you ask. Don’t worry. If you’re walking through a middle class, white neighborhood in the near vicinity of any metropolitan area, you’re never more than half a mile away from a yoga studio.
Accessory #4: Self-adhesive letters
These tools are your best accessories for those chilly evening when you’re wearing your favorite hooded sweatshirt – not your college one, the other one. The cheapest way is just to buy the three letters “M,” “I,” and “T.” Springing for four letters can get you an on-demand YALE hoodie, but you might also raise suspicion if you stick these four letters on anything but a navy blue sweatshirt. This tactic may also backfire in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To cover a few more bases (sweatshirts of different colors worn in different cities), buy enough letters to allow yourself to spell out Swarthmore, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Duke.
Accessory #5: Parasol
Nothing makes a big Black man appear less threatening than a parasol. Give it a few twirls as you sashay down the street with it over your shoulder. You might still get attacked, but it’ll have nothing to do with racism, and that may just be the refreshing change of pace you’ve been looking for.