What makes the choke-slam, arrest and street detainment of James Blake so remarkably telling is the fact that he is, well, remarkably unprofilable. He’s an underwear-model-ad-handsome and wholesome Harvard grad who’s a retired star in the American sport with perhaps the most affluent demographic. He was also standing in front of an upscale hotel in New York City, waiting for a car, not driving. (Did you hear that, Isaiah Washington?) Oh, and he’s married to a blonde named Emily. And he graduated summa cum laude from Paper Bag Test Academy.
Now, I’m not pointing these things out because they’re bad things. Just that Blake is the embodiment of literally everything clueless whites and cluelesser blacks say we need to do to prevent ourselves from getting harassed by the police … and it still happened to him. He had every slot filled on the respectability-politics bingo card, and it still didn’t matter.
Because if they can’t nab you for driving while black or resisting while black, they can get you for standing while black. Or smiling while black. Or being a handsome, light-skinned guy while black. Or being named “James Blake” while black. Which seems like hyperbole until you remember that in the last month alone, we’ve had laughing while black and being on a wine train with your book club while black added to the list of arrestable offenses.
Anyway, Blake’s case of “being a retired tennis superstar while black” made me think of a few “[blank] while black” scenarios we haven’t actually seen.
1. Lying in the Casket at a Wake While Black
We’ve already seen numerous instances of “being dead while black” where officers cuffed black people who were already dead. But to my knowledge, there have been no instances (yet) of the police barging into a wake and kick-slamming and detaining the person in the casket because they received a tip that someone fitting his description stole a pack of bite-sized Snickers. (Even though he didn’t actually steal the Snickers. They were in a free-candy jar at a PNC Bank, and one of the tellers filed a complaint because he took a handful of them instead of just two.)
2. Being Ben Carson While Black
This has inexplicably managed not to be an arrestable offense. Which proves how absurd the system is. Because if “waiting for a bus while black” and “hoverboarding while black” can get you got, how the hell hasn’t “being Ben Carson while black” resulted in any arrests yet? Perhaps, maybe, we should all attempt to be Ben Carson while black to elude capture.
3. Being in Space While Black
To my knowledge, of the 14 African Americans who’ve been in space, none of them were actually arrested in space. Which means that despite the lack of oxygen, the extreme temperatures, the random space debris, the possible aliens and the random, trillion-mile-long stretches of vast nothingness, space is safer for black Americans than Earth.
4. Putting Cottage Cheese on a Piece of American Cheese, Eating It With a Piece of Lettuce and Washing It Down With a Naked Juice While Black
I witnessed someone do this in a Crazy Mocha on Ellsworth Avenue in Pittsburgh in 2010. Yet, I’m certain no black person has ever been arrested while doing this. Because I’m certain no black person has ever done this.
5. Receiving a Grammy Award for Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist With Orchestra—Primarily Not Jazz or for Dancing—and Giving the Acceptance Speech While Black
This seems to have a lot of potential for arrest. I can totally see Pharrell receiving a Grammy for Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist With Orchestra—Primarily Not Jazz or for Dancing—and giving an acceptance speech about gravitational time dilation and breadcrumbs and having the Los Angeles Police Department escort him offstage halfway through it—but this probably won’t ever happen because this category was discontinued in 1964.
6. Being Undead While Black
Although zombies don’t exist, if a zombie apocalypse ever did happen, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t actually see any black zombies. Because they’d all be in jail cells and wandering around central booking, waiting to be arraigned for “just refusing to stay dead while black.”
7. Being an Actual White Person While Black
I know this hasn’t happened. Because I scour the Internet every day for news stories of white people being arrested while black. And I still haven’t found one.
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Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.