There’s an issue with my skin. It evokes fear in some and disgust in others. I don’t have blades coming out of my skin, and it doesn’t release a pungent odor. However, as I stroll across my second home for the semester, I attract strange glances. It must be the way my chocolate brown skin glistens during the day; now that’s intimidating.
I’m not saying this because I want to discuss how I love my sunkissed skin or my spring-loaded locks, but to discuss the difference between attending school in Maryville, Missouri, and attending school in Kansas City, Missouri.
Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed to be at Northwest exploring my journalistic interests, but the town sometimes makes me uneasy.
In my first few days back, I was walking from the track upon finishing a workout and noticed a car passing by. Naturally I repositioned my glance from my phone’s screen to catch a lady’s eyes fixated on me from the passenger seat. Being the friendly individual I consider myself to be, I smiled and politely nodded, expecting her to smile back and return her gaze to the road. I was disappointed. She, instead, continued staring at me with a look of, from what I could gather, disdain or slight irritation. She even went as far to slightly turn to continue glaring at me as the car rolled on.
For comparison, my existence in my hometown is rather unnoticeable. As I run around the track of my alma mater, the parents and children walking on the nearby trail mosey on by and pay no attention to me. The people in cars always keep their eyes on the road, including the passengers.
In North Kansas City, where I attended high school, I feel as comfortable as a black individual in America can feel. That’s not to say I haven’t had my fair share of racist encounters in the Kansas City area, because I have. I am, however, saying that, in Maryville, sometimes I feel as though my actions are being monitored more closely than in Kansas City. It’s as if there’s a force waiting for me to do something “out of the ordinary” to justify doling out punishment for a melanated king.
Now that I’m returning to Northwest to further my education in journalism, I’ve been reset to my cautionary setting. And since classes have started, there have already been race-related issues on and around campus.
I do my best to stay calm and unbothered by my surroundings, but I shouldn’t have to act like I’m a perfect human being in order to stay out of trouble. Every store I go in, I make sure I’m not speaking too loud, acting too erratic and definitely try my hardest to make sure nobody thinks I’m stealing. Sometimes, I get paranoid that I’m acting too cautious which makes me think I look even more suspicious. All because my skin handles UV rays a little better.
In Kansas City, there are parts that I wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) feel comfortable in, but cities are a lot different. In Maryville, I get scared that I’m going to be pumping gas and a couple trucks with confederate flags might show up and harass me. I’m not saying that this happens often, but the amount of trucks in the area prompt my nervousness.
There is a reason I have an issue with trucks. In my experience, trucks haven’t always been a symbol of comfort. Trucks don’t, by any means, denote someone’s personality, but I’ve had too many bad experiences with trucks and the people who operate them.
Belton, Missouri, had a period where trucks with confederate flags would follow and run black individuals off the road. Emmett Till was abducted and thrown into the back of a pickup truck. Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down by people in a truck. The other day, my friend was tailed by a truck in Maryville, and as the truck pulled up next to her, the driver was seen aggressively mouthing something to her. Even two jam-packed charter buses worth of black high schoolers brought a gang of trucks to slowly follow, circle and honk at teenagers walking from a mall.
These examples are only a few cases of what the black community has experienced with racist owners of trucks. I personally experienced the last example. So, I hope people understand when I tense up at the roar of a pickup and the thud of boots on pavement.
I wish I could give each individual in Maryville the benefit of the doubt, but seeing Facebook comments from Maryville residents after the Black Lives Matter protest makes the task difficult. I never know who could be secretly despising me when they’re not behind a screen.
Like I said, there’s an issue with my skin. It could be how I wear it so confidently or the way my white, porcelain smile contrasts my mahogany complexion. Or maybe it’s just a reminder of the generational trauma that my people have endured. You tell me.