Arguments with bouncers about Levi’s lead to “arguments” with police about “resisting,” which lead to, well, you know. So, as I said that to him, I was already walking back to my car. I’d heard the wings at that bar were pretty good, but not literally to die for. And I was still in earshot when door guy matter-of-factly spit, to me and anyone else who dared to test his authority: “Don’t matter. It’s my door.”
I don’t club anymore. I’m 41, a dad, and would much rather invite friends over to eat phat si ew and rewatch “Undercover Brother” than stand in line, anywhere really. But even if I wanted to, I can’t now, because everything is closed. And today, well over a decade since I was bounced for wearing my second favorite jeans on Pittsburgh’s third-whitest street, I wonder how that interaction would have gone if I had rolled through with the same fit and an N95 mask.
The disruption and terror that the coronavirus has brought to our lives have been callous, vicious and brutal. I grew up in a ’hood so violent that I’d regularly see cops from the actual show “Cops” on my block, but I’ve never been more terrified to leave the house than I am now. We don’t know exactly when this outbreak began, we don’t know when it will end, and the president supposedly in charge of our national response is America’s Triflin’est White Man. Great.
Predictably, this pandemic has posed a uniquely dangerous threat to black Americans. This wouldn’t be America if we weren’t disproportionately affected by it — a predicament due to a festival of intersecting risk factors that make us specifically vulnerable to the illness.
That said, even I have to admit that the irony of being told, forever, that obscuring my face might get me killed, only to now be told, “Mask or die!” is priceless.
Pre-‘rona, if I decided to wear a bandanna and a ski mask on a trip to Giant Eagle, the police, the National Guard, at least three of the Avengers and a Wyatt Earp hologram might have been summoned to contain and neutralize me. But now, I’m a menace to society if I’m not masked up? As absurd as America can be, it’s just too much, man. Be consistent.
Except, it is consistent. America is still discovering unique racisms to correspond with the unique trauma it’s facing. While the new national mandate to socially distance implicitly encourages us to tattle on those who don’t, we’ve already seen evidence that we’re disproportionately being reported for congregating in public: In some of New Jersey’s blackest cities, police just happen to be conducting traffic stops to question where people are going. Then there are the black men who’ve been harassed for wearing protective masks in public — including the two young men in Illinois who were forced to leave a Walmart by a gun-toting officer.
When this sort of boundless, scripted-by-Jordan-Peele-y farce is your reality, an active sense of humor can be an anxiety alleviation device. I’m reminded of a tweet last week from the homie Kiese Laymon:
Existing while black in America requires, among other things, a perpetual cognizance that your appearance will be both noticed and noted, possibly legislated against and perhaps even criminalized. It’s a company deciding, after you’re hired, that twists or dreadlocks are unprofessional and against policy. It’s schools suspending black girls for wearing outfits their white classmates wore yesterday. It’s a community watchman (successfully) using your hoodie to justify killing you. These are all red herrings, though. The cut of a jean or kink of a ‘do isn’t the issue. It’s that you, to them, are a sentient firework whose mere presence screams: Someone, please surveil me!
How you choose to proceed with this information can become a brutal math problem, where the ridiculous prospect of applying some sort of sartorial deodorant, in a futile attempt to make yourself more palatable, occasionally slinks into the equation. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking: Is this worth all the energy and bandwidth that I’m pouring into it? Do I fight it today, or cut my hair and let them win?
Of course, the concept of assimilation is a fallacy. If you’re tasked to convince someone of your humanity, the ask itself is proof that they can’t be convinced, so why even try? That calculus is obvious.
But what about now, when a mask can both save your life and end it? That ‘rona is a soulless demon — a cloud with Freddy Krueger’s disposition — and the answer (wear the mask) seems obvious, too. But that math changes real quick if Karen calls the cops on you.