Me and Race in Minneapolis (part 1)

A couple of days ago, I said I might blog about my experiences with race in Minneapolis. So, with a good deal of trepidation, here goes…

There were two basic experiences. The first was sometime during the dark season, when night falls well before the end of the normal business day. I was a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, and there was a meeting I wanted to attend, downtown, after the workday ended.

The law school is about a mile from downtown, and I either didn’t have a car, or had walked to work. I could have taken a cab or bus, but it was a relatively short walk and I was, after all, a marathoner.

So I walked.

I don’t know what it’s like now, but at the time, it wasn’t the best walk. Much was dark and deserted, as it took me by sports facilities for both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Vikings, surrounded by acres of empty parking lots.

Still, I felt more-or-less safe until a car pulled up behind me, slowed, and started shadowing me.

At the time, I had thick, black, curly hair a high school friend now describes as one of the best Afros in our graduating class. Even today, when it’s gone grey and I sometimes think I look like a dandelion gone to seed, Black people on the street often call out, “love your hair!”

So it’s no surprise that that night, I was mistaken for Black.

The occupants of the car began yelling racial epithets at me, along with assorted other taunts.

My first thought was that I could make this end by turning my white face toward them and saying something akin to “huh?”

But someone who really was Black couldn’t opt out that easily, and even though at that time the term “white privilege” wasn’t around, it felt immoral to escape so easily. Black people couldn’t, so why should I?

So I kept walking, eyes forward, trying not to let them detect the degree to which I’d quickened my pace. Downtown suddenly seemed an eternity away.

I don’t know how long they followed me. It felt like forever, but was probably only a minute or two.

But as it continued, I realized it was getting increasingly dangerous. My time to get out of this by letting them see their mistake had long passed. If I did so now, I stood a high chance of being attacked for mocking them by the delay.

Eventually, they gave a final taunt and sped off.

But I’ve never forgotten the incident, and count it as one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Because, for a brief, terrifying time, it gave me a taste of what it must be like to be Black, in America.

Me, I could have escaped (at least initially) by showing my white face.

But if I were Black, that wouldn’t have been possible.

What I had experienced was a taste of the reality Black people must live with, day in and day out, and I will be eternally grateful for the chance to, however briefly have a glimpse into what it must be like.

This post is getting long. Maybe I’ll post the other story separately, on a later day.

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