I’ve been reflecting on something that happened yesterday; thinking about how to communicate the experience, not as a complaint, but rather as a way to share some perspective on what it’s like to be a person of color in 2019 America.
I spoke at a conference in Breckenridge CO yesterday. I got there by driving a rental car from DEN to Breckenridge. I had never been and was in awe of the scenery. On the way back, I had five hours to make it to the airport. As like three of you know, I recently launched a YouTube channel, and I had been shooting a new video this week. The background in CO was too good to pass up, and so I was looking for places to pull off the road to shoot some footage (as I did on the way to Breckenridge the day before.) I saw this background about an hour outside Breckenridge and wanted to pull off the road and film and take pictures.
I pulled into a parking lot and took out my bag, tripod, gimbal, and camera (yes, I travel with my studio.) I found the perfect spot and filmed a few takes, took some pictures, and walked around. I was in this park (I think it was a park) for 45 minutes or so.
As I am doing this (the parking lot was visible to me the entire time,) I see a police car roll into the lot where my car was. The police car stopped, parallel to the parking spots, with its engine running and just sat there.
I believe there were two officers in the vehicle. I kept taking my pictures, wondering what they were doing there and keeping them in my line of sight the whole time. As I walked back to my rental, I turned on my little video camera and was able to capture these frames.
I got back to my car, nervously packed up my bags, making sure to move slowly and avoiding holding anything small or black in my hand. I was already nervous that I had a small camera in my hand and moved it slowly. I jumped into the car and drove away.) The police officers didn’t approach me. They didn’t say anything to me. Nothing happened.
In my head, I had lots of questions. I am wondering, was I in the most dangerous part of CO and those nice officers could tell I wasn’t from around there and so wanted to watch over me to make sure I was OK? Did someone driving by call the police to tell them that I was doing something illegal? Did someone driving or hiking by call the police because they saw a “strange brown fellow with black bags and equipment doing something in the park” and it made them nervous? Did one of the cops recognize me as they were driving by because they subscribe to my channel? Did the police officers notice me and my equipment and were curious about what I was doing?
And that is the point of this thread. I don’t know. People of color rarely do. It’s never as clear as the narrative suggests it is. It’s not the one person calling the other person a name caught on video, or the President telling a group of brown and black-skinned people to go back to their country. It’s usually like this. You don’t know and don’t want to assume the worst. You’re nervous during the experience. You feel like you did something wrong. You feel guilty. All you want to do is get out of there. You fumble about, praying you don’t hear the door open, and if it does, you pray you make the right moves and keep a cool head. That might be the hardest part because you know you are an American. You know you have the right to go where you want. You know you’re not guilty of anything. You know you shouldn’t be nervous or feel guilty, and you start getting upset and mad. So you hope you can get out of the situation, and the whole time, you wish they just pulled into the parking lot because they are big fans of your YouTube channel and are sitting in the car because they are nervous to ask to take a selfie with you…