I had forgotten about the first time.
I usually hear their dogs barking as I pass their house while walking my dog, a 165-pound Great Dane. On most days, at least one of the dogs exits the house through what I assume is a doggie door, walks into the fenced-in backyard and yaps at us as we walk by. But on this particular autumn day, the nice white couple were walking their dogs: two white, hairy collies that were not as big as my dog, but larger than most. My dog, Omar, pulled me toward them as the dogs pulled their owners, an older white couple, in our direction.
Although Omar is big, black and intimidating (no, I refuse to write “that’s what she said”), he wouldn’t hurt a fly. But I still unsuccessfully tried to keep him away from the two collies. When they met in the middle of the street, they played with each other (admittedly roughly), and we continued our walk.
Later that evening, I discovered that one of the collies had bitten Omar, leaving a deep puncture wound behind his ear. I put some ointment on it, the wound healed after a couple of weeks, and I never thought about it again. It wasn’t the dog owners’ fault. It was just what dogs do. At least six months would pass before I saw them again.
A few months ago, on March 4 (you will find out why I know the exact date soon enough), Omar and I were walking through the neighborhood again when I saw the same woman approach me. After exchanging names and a few pleasantries, I noticed that she seemed unusually skittish. She approached me and asked me what time I usually walk my dog.
As we talked, her husband came out of the house and asked me the same question. Then they asked me the $64,000 question:
“Is it OK if we exchange numbers so you can let us know when you’re walking Omar?” she said, as Omar stood beside her calmly. “I don’t know why I’m so nervous around him.”
“I don’t know why you’re nervous, either,” I responded. “Your dog bit my dog.”
“No, they didn’t,” she replied. “Collies don’t do that.”
Surprised at her dismissiveness, I told them I usually walk Omar around 5:30 p.m. and kept walking. (The time I walk him actually varies, but, again, I was flabbergasted.) I can’t exactly explain why I was so mad about this encounter except to say that the way in which they discounted me was as if they were calling me a liar because ... of course they were right.
Two days later, around 5:30 p.m., I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I ignored it, only to receive a text that said: “Hey Mike—are you walking Omar today?”
I ignored the text because ... fuck them. About 15 minutes later, while I was walking Omar, I actually contemplated walking in the opposite direction from where they lived. But again ... fuck them. As I passed their neatly landscaped yard, they emerged from the front door and asked for a word. I could hear their dogs yapping in the background as usual.
“Umm, can I ask you a favor?” she nervously began. “Do you think ... I mean, it seems like it would be much easier for everyone ... if you just didn’t walk Omar past our house. I don’t know why, but they get agitated when they see Omar. Instead of walking down our street, maybe you should go another way.”
Their motherfucking street. She actually referred to it as their street.
I can’t explain the white-hot anger I felt bubbling in my chest as I held the leash on my voice at a low, seething whisper: “Maybe it would be easier if you just stayed the fuck away from me.”
Although the term “colonizer,” made popular in the movie Black Panther, seemed like a joke at the time, it is becoming evident that no more appropriate term has ever been coined to describe white people’s inherent assumption that all spaces are theirs.
Anyone who has ever read almost anything I have written knows that there are very few things a white person can do that would shock me. I know racism exists. The subtle and blatant ways in which it manifests itself could never surprise most black people.
It is impossible to live in America unaware of the sheer audacity of white people’s privilege. But with the advent of social media and cellphone cameras, I find myself astounded at the sheer prevalence of it. It is not as rare as I thought.
Every morning at The Root, a few of us who are internally referred to as our “news crew” decide which stories we will cover that day. Invariably there are at least two or three stories revealing the caucasity of white people.
Whether it is about a napping black student who made a dorm resident at Yale feel uncomfortable, a black family who committed the egregious crime of cooking on their own charcoal grill in a public park, black guys sitting silently in Starbucks, or a Waffle House customer doing whatever white people with guns, police or Waffle House employees find offensive (which is apparently anything, including breathing), it seems like every day there is another video of a white person going bonkers at a black person for invading their space.
And none of this is due to the Trump effect or the emboldening of whiteness. We are all aware that racism exists, but white people aren’t becoming more racist. They aren’t committing more acts of colonization. We are just becoming more aware of the ubiquitous caucasity of white people because we can see it up close and in color.
Despite what Kanye West and Candace Owens would have you believe, no matter how “free” our “thoughts” may be, anyone who is not white is viewed as an interloper. Whether it is at a lunch counter at a 1959 diner or in a Waffle House booth, we are forever trespassers in the spaces they have colonized and made their own.
It has always been their space. It is their Waffle House. Their Starbucks. Their park. Their dormitory. Their street. Their neighborhood. Their America. It all belongs to them.
Now I understand: It is just what white people do.
White people have always been this way. The only difference between now and a decade ago is our awareness of this phenomenon and the decline in black people’s willingness to subject ourselves to the whim of colonizers.
There is something to be said about the big black animal that makes them uncomfortable. How they want to make it disappear from sight because it annoys them. How the huge black dog seems terrifying, but it is actually the white ones that bite. How I actually considered walking in the other direction, down and back up a steep hill, just to appease them. But those analogies seem pointless when compared with reality.
I am sure there will be some who will skim over this and point out that they are white but do not subscribe to this way of thinking. They will probably ask that I not paint all Caucasians with such a broad brush. But instead of reissuing the disclaimer of “not all white people” and wondering why they came onto a black site to colonize this discussion with their declarations of butt-hurtedness, I will simply say:
Maybe you should stay off our street.