Headline: Guest Opinion
Layercake: Skin color is irrational basis for fear
By BABA G. JALLOW
Since I came to UC Davis five years ago, I have had my fair share of being demonized because I’m black. Almost every day I encounter incidents of demonization.
Upon seeing me, I have seen people (mostly females, of all colors) reach for their cell phones, turn sharp corners or make a wide curve as if I was going to pounce on them at the earliest opportunity. Often, I take it in stride. Sometimes, I feel sad at such ignorance. And sometimes, I get so depressed that I grow even uglier than usual. I know a lot of black men – African or African-American – experience the type of scenarios I describe here.
Now, I understand there’s a perfectly good reason to behave in such a way because of the ubiquity of crime in our society. However, no criminal, however hardened, will attack a woman here on campus, in broad daylight, in full public view, with people walking everywhere or visible from surrounding office windows.
Moreover, are some muggings that take place in Davis not committed by white-skinned people? Yet, people are more likely to avoid a decent-minded black man than they would a criminally-minded white-skinned man. My point is that a man’s skin color does not determine whether he is a criminal or not. However, because I’m black, many people immediately conclude that I am a criminal who will harm them if I happen to be walking behind them, or walking toward them in one of the lanes and walkways around campus. I am not capable of hurting even a fly. The very idea of bullying is repugnant to my mind. Yet, I am demonized every single day that I come to this high citadel of learning that is UC Davis. Magic is, it makes me love UC Davis no less because I know this beautiful institution does not partake of these ugly politics of demonization.
The incident that finally made me write these thoughts happened on Monday. Sitting in my TA office since around 8 a.m. struggling to get the better of my doctoral dissertation, I took a short break around 10 p.m. and sat between the sociology and philosophy department offices – in full public view. A woman around the age of 50 came down the stairs in my direction. Seeing me, she abruptly turned towards the opposite direction. She flip-flopped, slightly turned towards me, changed her mind and hurriedly disappeared in the other direction. I knew by her frightened look at me that I was the cause of her great disquiet. Through no fault of mine, I had frightened the poor woman and perhaps sent her on a long and winding tour of the maze that is the Social Sciences and Humanities. I chuckled sadly to myself at her thought that I must be a monster sure to hurt her.
I wish people were more sensitive to the fact that black doesn’t equal bad; that people stop demonizing others simply because of the color of their skin; especially not in broad daylight, during weekdays, at UC Davis where we pride ourselves on our principles of humane community. Sure, danger must be avoided at all times – regardless of its color. However, people should have better grounds for sensing danger than mere skin color. Not every black man is a criminal, just as not every white-skinned man is an angel. Such a Manichean view of human types is quite unworthy of our learned community. If my black skin offends your tender sensibilities, please look away. But don’t think I’m bad simply because I’m black. I’m not.
BABA G. JALLOW is a Ph.D. candidate in history at UC Davis.