Kind of sad that this happens to be my first blog as there are so many other things I’d rather express that are positive! Some people experience things in ways other don’t. Some will react to things in ways others won’t. For me prejudice/racism is just something that comes with my skin complexion as a Black man. In some aspects I’ve become numb to it, because I expect it. It’s not right, but it’s something I’m aware of. There’s been a few times it’s happened and I simply shrugged it off. This time my wife, Tiarra saw it firsthand and was just heartbroken.
Whenever I take our daughter Juliette to a park by myself, it happens. Always, not almost always I’m talking each time there’s Caucasian women there. They will snatch up their kids and almost sprint to their vehicle. Clearly the child was still playing, but off they go. It could be two or more moms with their kids and poof. Like magic they disappear. Well, it happened again. It was a perfect Tuesday afternoon. We stopped by Hardee’s and a local BBQ place to grab lunch. The temperature was around 68 degrees with clear skies and sunny! It was the perfect day to go to the park after being so cold and snowed in for a week straight. We sat down to eat and surveyed the park. There were a lot of families out. The big kid park was packed. The little kid park not so packed with 4 kids and 3 adult women. Some people around the park were walking their dogs as well. Once we finished eating Juliette grabbed me by the hand and was super excited to go to the playground. Juliette and I walked over ahead of Tiarra to the playground. As Juliette and I stepped onto the platform, the other mothers instantly made their way off and away. ” Ok. Let’s go find your sister” one said. Before Tiarra got over to us it had happened and was over. The 3 of us were now the only people on the little kids playground.
This photo is worth more than 1,000 words.
Deep down my feelings were being suppressed. So, I sent the photo to a group chat just to joke about it. It’s about 6 of us men in it, diverse in cultures so I expected the responses as they came in. I simply said, ” Want to get a playground area all to yourself? Be a Black male. The first reply was, ” I hate it here. That makes me angry.” I followed with, ” Nobody has a mask on either.” The next reply was, ” Not scared of Rona(Corona Virus) but scared of a Black man.”
About 5 minutes or so later a Caucasian father and his sons come up to the playground were we are. His little kid runs up to the slide and begins to play. The father strikes up a conversation with me. I’m always up to talk so it didn’t bother me one bit. We talked about the perfect weather, being stuck in the house cause of Covid, plus the ice from last week. We talked about of careers he’s a singer, then his older son walked over to chat. The conversation turned into sports banter, where his son said AD was meh. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed something. The families that were at the playground when we first walked up slowly popped back up as if now it was safe to be in the vicinity as us. Thirty minutes later another family came up with their baby girl. Scared to ask us to move I simply asked the father I was speaking with to step over to the side so their daughter could get on the swing. The other dad didn’t want to be a bother and I simply replied, ” Park is big enough for us all. Come on up here. ” Then he joined the conversation and his wife was speaking with Tiarra. We had some great conversation about various topics, but not once, did the families who ran off and came back ever say a single word to us. Not a single word. Sad part is they didn’t need to because their actions said all I needed to know. Not going to mention when their kid was about to swing at Juliette because, he didn’t want to share the slide. Any who, our time at the park had come to an end.
Afterwards, we stopped by our storage unit because, Tiarra had about 1,000 diapers in the trunk she didn’t tell me about. We pull up, load up, I put them up and come back down. As I sat down in the car, I looked at my wife who was trying her best to hold it in. I ask, “Babe what’s wrong!” Her, “I’m sad for you.” Me being oblivious as if something happened without me realizing it, “About what?” She broke down in tears, “You’re a good person! Why does that happen.” Me relieved I didn’t do anything this time lol. I begin to tell her It’s ok. I’m not upset nor offended by it. I expected it. It shouldn’t be this way but that is the life I live in. I didn’t ask for this skin complexion, but I am my skin complexion in all aspects. I wouldn’t change anything about it. This skin has made me the man I am today.
My parents taught me what my name is. Taught me to think before I react and think before I speak. Use common sense when it’s not so common. I remember being called a name at school and my mom asked me, ” Well is that your name?” My dad always made sure we were aware that we are strong smart young Black men and some people wont see that initially. Do y’all know how many times I was pulled over for speeding? How many times I was profiled? How many times cops assumed I was a drug dealer simply because I had super dark tinted windows? The disappointment on their faces when everything is as clean as the white walls on my car? I was 17 and drove a 1994 Buick LeSabre with always clean colgate white, white walls. I’m pretty sure my parents bought it from someone’s grandma.
In Memphis, while driving I was profiled to be a “drug dealer”. However, one thing I did was stay ahead of the cops and whenever I got pulled over I knew it was for one of 3 things speeding, dark limo tint, or driving while Black. I always rolled my windows all the way down. Yes all 4 of them, then I turn on my interior lights and have my driver’s license, registration and insurance card in my hand while my hands are on the wheel by the time my the officer comes to my car. I spoke with respect. Never mad about why I was pulled over because, I knew of the 3 possible reasons. Once in Murfreesboro, TN I was 19 in the same Buick, still had the white walls. I was pulled over for speeding. The cop asked me 5 different times if this was my car. I kept my car as I got it except I added window tint. The insurance, title and registration was in my name. Yet he persistently asked if the car was mine and not stolen. Once in Johnson City, TN I was backing into a parking spot. I stopped cause I saw a couple walking so I patiently waited. I parked and got out of the car as I was late to work. The man turned and said, ” You know you saw me you f*** n*****. His girlfriends eyes could’ve popped out of her head as if she couldn’t believe he actually said it out loud. I looked at him and he started walking faster ahead of me, and I simply nodded and said, “My name is Johnathan and I’m late for work. You have a good day. ” The look on his face afterwards was as if his mom slapped him and he had no idea what he did. I didn’t react how he wanted me to. Til this day I won’t let anything that’s not my name bring me out of character.
I say all of that to say this, I know the world I live in. I know the people who are around me and how they view me. I’m a tall, Hershey colored man that’s 245lbs. As my wife said in a recent Instagram post, “Johnathan is a Black man, a loving husband, father, business owner and a complete nerd who happens to like not just rap but Queen, Billy Joel and playing the piano. He’s no threat!”
They don’t know how a truly pure hearted human being looks beyond their skin color. I told Tiarra not all people will ever know the real me. Had any of the people at the park needed help, Tiarra knows I’d be the first to jump in and help without wanting anything in return. I’ve bought people car batteries, fixed their cars, and given away my personal spare tires multiple times and never once have my hand out looking for something in return. I’m just a good natured person who wishes the best for anyone that should cross my path. Yes I get mad about some things, but never would I wish ill will on anyone in this world. Tiarra’s worry now is amplified since she’s seen it happen in front of her own eyes. Now that we have our very own son due any day now she is now more fearful for what this world could have in store for him. She recalled a mom saying something along these lines. “At what age do our kids stop being cute and become a threat to you?”
As the night went on I spoke with my dad about what had happened, and he commended me for not losing my cool and making a big scene. I said to him, “I have too much to lose. I have a wife and 2 children who need me to be present. Lashing out won’t do anything, but cause a avalanche of misery. “
Never judge a book by it’s cover. It’s perfectly find to be cautious. It was almost 40 people at the park. The one Black man that has a daughter who is beyond excited to get on a 3ft slide, has no idea why all the kids suddenly aren’t around. This is the daily life for many people of color in the year 2021. So while you may clutch your purse or lock the doors 10 times cause I walked by, I’ll make sure my daughter and son will have so much fun at the park that they won’t give a damn who didn’t want to be around them or their dad. If you find the conversation of racism and prejudice hard to have then you have some serious searching to do within. There’s still the other dark side of prejudice within the Black community, but that itself is for another completely different post.
Thank you for your time in reading this passage. I hope it creates subject matter that you can bring about in your home to bring clarity. It’s one thing to think it. It’s a completely other thing to act on it.
Written by: Johnathan Patten