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White girl guilt

I was standing on an unfamiliar porch, holding a stuffed animal from a Maurice Sendak children’s book, when I saw a man smoking a substance I wasn’t entirely sure was legal walk around the corner half a block away. He was black, so the fear I suddenly felt made me feel like a racist white girl. Sure, I was in a questionably safe part of town and, sure, his manner of dress and body language would have provoked suspicion even if he was white, but he wasn’t white. He was black, and when I’m scared of black men I feel racist even if my fear is justified.

I’d taken the Wild Thing with me on my trip to North Carolina for my friend Elise’s blog project, Where the Wild Thing Is. All I had to do was pose the adorably scary creature amongst local landmarks, snap a picture, and submit a journal entry. I had to return the plushie before the weekend so he could travel to some other semi-exotic locale. Elise kindly emailed me her street address, which I kindly forgot to write down.

I knew what intersection her home was near, so I headed for that direction and parked in front of a house with numbers that seemed vaguely familiar, like a high school locker combination. I tried texting her and got no response. I walked up to the door and knocked, waiting for someone to let me in. I felt hopeful when I saw a forwarding address reminder on the mail slot for the previous owners, knowing that Elise had just moved into her house. I felt less hopeful for my safety since I knew this was a transitional zone between the bad neighborhood and the good neighborhood.

After a minute the man started approaching.

That’s when I stuffed the wild-eyed, hairy creature into the mail slot and walked quickly for my car. I hoped I had the right address, otherwise someone was going to be awfully confused when they sorted through their bills that evening. I slid into the driver’s side door and flipped the lock manually so the loud “CHUNK!” of the automatic lock wouldn’t broadcast my fear and bigotry all the way down the block. Just as I started the ignition, the man knocked on the passenger’s side door. I gave him a dumb wave and smile and pulled away towards the north side where the white people live, wondering whether I’d ever really been in danger or if I’d just made the whole thing up in my head.

I do not regret trusting my intuition. I read The Gift of Fear and I know that my intuition always has my best interest at heart even if it’s not always right. There’s nothing wrong with going with your gut, especially when your safety is involved. When listening to my intuition in this case, the worst case scenario was that I offended an otherwise upstanding citizen. If I hadn’t listened to my intuition, the worst case scenario involved bodily harm or mugging. I’ll take being rude over being assaulted any day.

I doubt the man would have mugged me or harmed me. He probably would have asked for a dollar or tried to sell me something. Whether I was in danger or not, these scenarios force me to look at an unpleasant side of myself, the part that is more afraid of black men than white men, the part that is a little bit racist, the part I otherwise like to ignore.

Several years ago I was waiting at a corner in the dark for a friend to pick me up. Her husband stood with me, a large man who could easily be a linebacker. The lack of streetlights and the fear of what I couldn’t see made me nervous. I mentioned as much to my companion and he laughed, “No one’s going to give a big guy like me trouble.” And I realized he was right. And I realized that it’s different being a girl. You have to be nervous on street corners. You have to worry about strangers walking down the sidewalk. As Gavin De Becker says in his book, at worst a man fears that a woman will humiliate him, but at worst a woman fears that a man will kill her.

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69 Comments

Helen • October 20, 2008 at 9:37 am

Always trust your gut. Period.

As to the racist white girl thing: There is nothing wrong at all with being afraid of a stranger in a strange part of town. Being afraid of a Black, Mexican, Chinese, Indian or other brown colored stranger but not a White stranger, now that’s a different story. I ask you this: do you want to change, now that you recognize it? It’s entirely possible and entirely up to you.

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Charlie Hills • October 20, 2008 at 10:13 am

Fear is nature’s gift to animals to help keep them alive. It is for this reason that I fear peanut butter. I know it will kill me someday.

And I’m sure if the guy was white and looked fairly drugged out and creepy looking, you would have had the exact same reaction.

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Jules • October 20, 2008 at 10:24 am

That said, men are statistically far more likely to die a violent death than women. So women are still beter off in my book :)

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julie • October 20, 2008 at 10:40 am

I’m sorry you feel that way. Though I’ve never met any, I’ve heard about people who live in all white neighborhoods, or grew up somewhere and never saw a black person until college. For me, that’s as strange as being a virgin in your 30s. I haven’t lived in a white neighborhood since I was in grade school, and I like it that way.

Maybe he was knocking on your window because you offended him. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to try to diversify your friends.

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Charlie Hills • October 20, 2008 at 10:43 am

I’m sorry, peanut butter! I didn’t mean what I said back there. Please come back!

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Karen • October 20, 2008 at 10:47 am

It’s always better to risk being offensive than ignore a gut instinct. Everyone needs to be careful, but a woman alone in a strange area needs to be even more careful, and vigilant.

The guy you saw was probably harmless — but if you were getting bad vibes from him, it’s better that you ran to your car than waited around to engage him in conversation.

That said, I’m not sure if I have more fear of black men over white men… but I think, generally, people can tell when someone else is up to no good, regardless of their race. That the guy bee-lined for you and tapped on your passenger window would be kind of scary regardless of his race.

And I don’t think you can call yourself racist (or a bit racist) in this situation… there’s a great line from the show “Roseanne” that goes somethibng like: “I’m prejudiced against ALL men.” Sadly, to protect ourselves, women sort of need to be prejudiced against men …

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MizFit • October 20, 2008 at 10:49 am

Im always one to go with my gut (and a lot of that I credit to his book as well).

in all situations.

from hiring people to dating people to letting my Toddler go over to people’s homes…

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susan • October 20, 2008 at 10:52 am

I grew up with a black foster sister, and my first serious boyfriend was black. Nevertheless, I feel a bit more afraid if a black teenager is walking down the street toward me than if a white teenager is. I think is does make me a bit racist, but I doubt there are few people who are truly colorblind in every way.

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Karen • October 20, 2008 at 10:57 am

@julie – I consider myself open to friendships with any person that respects me and that I find amusing and fun to be around, but I don’t think you can force friendships either, or go out looking to befriend a certain type of person… as in “I think we need to add a black/homosexual/Asian/Hispanic person to our group.”

But I do agree that if someone makes conscious decisions to avoid talking to certain people because of their race or plain isn’t open to befriending someone of a certain race or culture, that is pretty unacceptable (at least imo)… though i doubt PastaQueen is that way.

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butterfly • October 20, 2008 at 11:07 am

We naturally fear the unknown. I don’t believe your fear was race-related, but moreso the “when I saw a man smoking a substance I wasn’t entirely sure was legal walk around the corner half a block away.”

Why was this man approaching you? Well, we don’t know. The answer is that you were afraid, and it is better to be safe than sorry.

As you said, you may have offended an outstanding citizen, but your safety counts.

I live in a city where if someone asks you for the time you end up making strange facial contortions and wonder what their intention was. Why surely they wanted to distract you while you looked at your watch to either grab your purse!

My mom told me never to talk to strangers and I don’t. Well, except for online. Wait, that’s not true either.. but you catch my drift.

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Susan • October 20, 2008 at 11:12 am

If you open your door and see a tiger standing on the porch, do you make the assumption that he’s friendly and pat him on the head? Of course not—your fear of black men in strange neighborhoods does not make you racist, it’s a logical fear based on your knowledge of the world.

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Jennifer • October 20, 2008 at 11:17 am

I know what you mean about feeling racist when you are afraid of a black man. In most of those situations, I would have been just as afraid if it had been a white man, or a hispanic man, or an asian man. But we spend so much time being told that we are racist that when we have completely legitimate fear of A man, we feel racist when he happens to have black skin.

Just another person agreeing that I’d rather offend someone than get hurt because I didn’t trust my spidey sense telling me to protect myself.

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Gigi • October 20, 2008 at 11:30 am

I was mugged at knifepoint by 2 black men as I was leaving a Boston class at night. The white woman (a classmate) who offered me a ride home was in her car clearing off the front seat for me when the 2 men approached me on the sidewalk. I gave them my wallet and jewelry but while they still held the knife to me and instructed the woman to hand over her valuables, she insisted she didn’t have any – even as the men told her they’d stab me if she didn’t fork it over. Luckily, they left without harming me physically and when I asked the woman if she was bluffing, she said yes – her wallet was under the car seat the whole time I had a knife pointed at me.

Bad is bad – white, black or whatever and you can never tell from just how someone looks. Go with your gut and protect yourself. You’ll never regret it.

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April • October 20, 2008 at 11:34 am

I don’t think this makes you racist. A single woman, in any neighborhood with a man approaching her and knocking on her car windows should absolutely be afraid. It is much better to offend a good citizen than to put your life at risk. I had a long term relationship with a black man, have a black child and several black friends, not in the least bit prejudiced about black people but any strange man, white, black, asian, whatever approaches me the way you were approached and I’m trusting my instinct to get the hell out of there and if that leaves him feeling like I’m a racist, then that’s his problem, not mine and it’s certainly not yours.

Longwinded there. Sorry but I’m very touchy about the idea of people calling a woman racist because she reacted with fear to a man that had black skin.

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Mich • October 20, 2008 at 11:42 am

Seems to me the logical thing to do is look at the man (or woman) and ask yourself: if it came to a physical confrontation and I had no escape route, could I defend myself adequately? Could I take him/her? And if the answer to the question is no, then I need to either get better at defending myself or better at escaping.

I think that’s the difference between men and women (massive generalization here), in that men ask themselves “can I take him” before they take evasive action. Women assume “he’s going to hurt me”.

I’ll add a book recommendation: Her Wits About Her: Self Defense Success Stories by Women by Caignon & Grove. It is out of print but well worth getting through inter-library loan.

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TOWR • October 20, 2008 at 11:53 am

You’re not racist. Would you have been afraid of him if you were in a good area of town and his appearance was more upstanding? Probably not. I truly believe in women’s intuition–we might not have been given size and strength like men, but we have a smart gut, and we should follow it. Following my gut has never gotten me into trouble, and I don’t care who I offend–I’d rather be safe and alive.

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Danielle • October 20, 2008 at 11:55 am

I know you’re all correct in putting safety first, and I’m sure I’d do the same.

However I’m getting a kick out of imaging that it was his house you were in front of, and he was just wondering why a stranger was dropping a stuffed animal in his mailbox.

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Maggie • October 20, 2008 at 11:58 am

I have been in this same spot many times – and I think it’s possible for you to have absolutely positively done the right thing AND have your actions been a little bit racist as well. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.

I try to educate myself and be open-minded, but at the end of the day, we’re all a little bit racist, to paraphrase that Avenue Q song.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a black man and have people cross the street to avoid you at night. I think it’s terrible. But as a single woman, I am dealing with extremely high sexual assault statistics that I don’t think any man thinks about when he walks around. Do I think that’s terrible as well? Yes! So in short, sometimes I am a little bit racist in those situations and I don’t like myself for it, but that’s the reality.

It’s always good to talk about these things! And that’s a really interesting quote by Gavin DeBecker.

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jancd • October 20, 2008 at 12:00 pm

We stopped to get gas one Saturday night in an area of town that was not the safest. A guy approached my husband as he was pumping gas and asked to money. My husband (who usually doesn’t think fast on his feet) replied, “Oh, I’m sorry. We give all our charity money to our church and through our taxes. I have no money.” The guy was so startled, he walked away. My hubby quit pumping and jumped in the car. We had enough gas to get home!! I swore then never to get in that situation with low gas again!!

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Inny • October 20, 2008 at 12:09 pm

If I’m alone at a dark alley I would run from ANY man approaching,be it black or white, dressed in rags and drugged or wearing an evening suit. I’m cowardly that way. I won’t even have time to look for the color when I hear footsteps behind me…

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nolafwug • October 20, 2008 at 12:32 pm

I think we all hold some racist beliefs deep down. A big part of being anti-racist is acknowledging them and actively trying to confront and compensate for them. So in writing this post and bringing up this discussion I think you are being anti-racist and that’s awesome.

I think you did the right thing. “Better safe than sorry” is my motto. I nurture a healthy fear of every man I see while running in the dark, early hours for example. I never assume a man isn’t strong enough to overtake me – even if he’s elderly and using a walker. I never assume that just because a man is well-dressed (or white) that he won’t try and grab me.

If some inebriated man approached me on the street in broad daylight, you bet your ass I’d be running away.

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PurpleGirl • October 20, 2008 at 12:36 pm

PQ, I know exactly how you feel. Whenever I’m approached by a strange man in an isolated/dark place, I feel afraid. And if that person happens to be non-white, I feel guilty–even though I respond to strange white men the same way. But having grown up with a racist father, I’m always afraid I’ll find some secret racist corner lurking in my mind.

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Sillycakes • October 20, 2008 at 12:43 pm

“Scary” knows no color. You did the right thing by following your instincts.

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EFontes • October 20, 2008 at 12:52 pm

I think it’s interesting that so many of you are spending so much time trying to determine whether or not PQ’s response was racist. Of course it is important ALWAYS to trust your instincts when you feel you are in danger. Her response, in and of itself, is not racist.

I think the larger point of this posting however deals with her admission to being “a little more afraid of black men than white men” which is PREJUDICE my friends.

By PQs own admission, “Whether I was in danger or not, these scenarios force me to look at an unpleasant side of myself, the part that is more afraid of black men than white men, the part that is a little bit racist, the part I otherwise like to ignore.”

So, the issue of whether or not she is prejudiced and perhaps racist is not in question. She is admitting that herself. I think it takes a lot of courage to admit our shortcomings. It is, after all, the first step in addressing and overcoming them.

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tina • October 20, 2008 at 12:55 pm

As a woman in a strange place with all the vulnerability that entails, I absolutely think you did the right thing and exactly what I would have done despite being raised in a diverse community with a very eclectic group of friends.

But I still thought this video was pretty funny.

[Broken link]

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asithi • October 20, 2008 at 1:02 pm

I would do the same thing myself. When I are not in a safe neighborhood, my antennae goes up when I see only 1 or 2 people on the street. When they start approaching me, I would do the same thing. After all, I would never see the person again.

Whenever I been approached by anyone on the street, it is almost always to ask for money (black or white). I am not sure why that is the case. People do not just come up to you and make small talk.

Same thing at a gas station. I’ve been called “stupid” when I told a well dressed black man that I do not have any money. I am actually offended that someone would call me “stupid” when I spent the last 3 minutes listening to your rambling story about losing your wallet, punctures on your tires, and gas money.

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PastaQueen • October 20, 2008 at 1:39 pm

@Danielle – Heh! That would be funny, but it turned out to be my friend’s house.

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NICOLE BLEDSOE • October 20, 2008 at 2:56 pm

OK This is just my .02 worth but I was in a similar situation. I live in Sunny Fl and my incident was on a bright sunny febuary day I had decided to walk on my lunch break trying to loose weight and all (by the way I made it to goal with 91 lbs lost.) I was walking around the block from work and I had a car with two black men pass me and stare at me while passing. They went about 5 house down and stopped and started to slowly back up. I picked up my phone and called my co worker whom I figured could get to me faster than 911. The boss was also there if I needed him. I called my co work and said I have a car backing up to me and he may only need directions or just missed his turn but I want him to see I am on the phone. I live in Florida the conceal carry state and I do conceal carry. I had a loaded 38 on my hip if I needed it. The whold time he was backing up I kept telling my self It was probably nothing. I noticed a city work truck pass me and realized I may need help so he turned around to check on me. The guy stopped and looked me up and down and asked me if I was ok. People I am in work clothes with a mp3 player in my ears do I look ok? I simply said yes and kept my hand near my waist. He repeated so your ok hugh? I said yes again. The whole time I had a coworker on the phone. He looked up and seen the city truck and took off. I told my co work to send the boss after me as I was too shaken to walk back. I had already had my mind made up that if he had opended his car door the minute his foot hit the ground I was pulling my gun. Thank God I didn’t have to and he pulled off. But the more I play that in my head the more I think he meant harm. I have spoken to many cops since then and they all said I did the right thing. In FL you have to be in fear for your life to pull a gun so it’s not like you can wave it and threaten with it. Men need to realize what it looks like when a single female is alone and they stop or come after us. He was probably up to no good. I felt a little guilty also but if you read in the paper there is always someone who didn’t listen to their gut and got hurt. I am sure if my two guys were white and rough looking I would have felt the same way.Better to be safe than sorry. I think you were smart and observant congrats to you . Many women would not have noticed him and may have gotten hurt. You should be proud because you are being safe first and formost. Don’t ever second guess that.

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Kendra • October 20, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Hi,

I think you did the right thing. Its very important to follow your gut, even at the risk of offending, especially when you’re alone.

As a black woman, I don’t fear black men (or women for that matter) as much as, say, a white or asian person would. But I know black men. I know that a majority of them have really big hearts (no matter how they dress or speak). There was a possibility that he thought you were lost or recognized the fact that “you didn’t belong” and wanted to help…but the possibility that he meant harm was still there. I sure as heck would be afraid if I were alone and someone supicious started following me (as you said, black, white, purple or green). And I have to admit, bald white men scare the crap out of me which gets kind of tricky since I’m an Oncology Nurse!

Just as others have mentioned. You have to protect yourself and recognize that people of your own race can cause you harm as well. A coworker of mine’s son (who is white) was jumped by four white guys – for no reason, they didn’t even take his money, just for kicks (no pun intended)! He needed surgery immediately because of a brain bleed. The guy said they called to him and he didn’t know them but didn’t think they meant any harm. So be careful and make sure your intuition is in tuned to all that may cause you harm and not just the sterotypical black male.

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Marla • October 20, 2008 at 5:00 pm

It takes a lot of guts to conduct a self-examination that you think might not reflect well on yourself – I’m impressed that you do so, and you’re willing to do it in public and hear what other people think.

I have to join what appears to be the majority opinion, that it’s better to be safe than sorry. And props to Gavin de Becker, that is indeed an excellent book (although I’m also going to look at the one Mich recommended).

I’m sure I’m more likely to be scared of a black guy than a white guy – because I’m white. And more scared of a man than a woman – because I’m a woman. In the absence of any really definite cues, I think most people are most comfortable with others they can “read” most easily. Of course that can sometimes be misleading, but I think the more points of similarity, the higher the level of trust or comfort, whether merited or not. So I guess my worst fear would be a tall, skinny, colored, teenaged male who doesn’t speak English and hates chocolate. Not because I expect the worst from a person of that description, but because they would seem the most alien to me.

OK, I think I belabored that point to death.

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Laura • October 20, 2008 at 5:24 pm

As a white woman married to a black man, I have to say I find this a tad offensive. If you are in a bad area, do you think a white man would be less likely to do you harm? Diversify yourself and be the change you want to see in the world.

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Donna • October 20, 2008 at 6:24 pm

Being older than most of you, this episode reminds me of something that happened to me in 1968 in Baltimore (soon after Martin Luther King was killed). I had recently moved into an apartment which turned out to be in a white neighborhood which was just north of a black neighborhood (it was a time of white flight from the city). I wanted pizza and called the nearest shop. It turned out to be south of me. I got there to pick it up and was a tad worried about getting out of my car when I saw a bunch of black kids hanging out. However, I was fearless and determined to not be racist and was also hungry for my pizza. A young (14?) black kid came over to me and asked if I would like him to accompany me as I might feel a bit nervous in the neighborhood. I said thanks and into the pizza place we went. He told me his brother was the big black guy outside and I was safe with him. He waited until I got my pizza, escorted me back to my car, and home I went. It’s very possible that my pizza adventure could have turned out very differently, but it didn’t. You should hear my story about my car breaking down on the highway the morning after MLK was killed.

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still reading • October 20, 2008 at 6:35 pm

“He probably would have asked for a dollar or tried to sell me something.”

I think you were right to trust your gut, but seriously, those are the only two options you could think of? I live in a very bad section of Manhattan, and in my experience, there are so many things he could have wanted. In my ‘hood, he very likely wanted to say “hi baby, you look beautiful today”. Which after many times of being intimidated by that remark, I have come to realize that someone just thinks I look beautiful. I am careful, safe and at the same time try not to jump to conclusions.

Now I have the Avenue Q song running through my head. A seriously funny show, if you have not seen it yet.

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PastaQueen • October 20, 2008 at 6:51 pm

@still reading – After I mentioned the incident to my friend, she said that she doesn’t usually go outside alone because people either ask her for money or try to sell her stuff. That’s the reason I mentioned those two options.

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gazellegirl • October 20, 2008 at 7:03 pm

As a white woman who almost married a black man (was in a relationship for quite a while), I have to say that I probably would have done the same thing as PQ.

I wanted to say something about the midwest vs. the coast/urban areas. I lived in Sacramento for 5 years, including downtown for a good chunk of that, and used to walk around at all hours. Sacramento is incredibly diverse. There are “neighborhoods” for sure, but for the most part, you can walk around or go to stores or whatever, wherever you want. When I went to Detroit for a wedding a few years back, I noticed how diverse things are but how separated. I have traveled via road trip across the country also and noticed the same thing. Some people say it’s harder to tell on the west coast if someone is racist becaue people are good at pretending they are not because that’s what they think they are supposed to do. I don’t know if I had a point with that; just a difference I noticed.

Another thing I’ve noticed is if you aren’t sure about people, and the situation is not seemingly going to cause you harm, just realize that is your fear talking, give it a wave of acknowledgement, and say syanora. I learned alot from my honey during the time we went out and didn’t have to miss out on good love.

Everyone is prejudiced. That’s how we survue. NOT everyone is racist. PQ, I think you were just being…normal.

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Kari • October 20, 2008 at 9:33 pm

I think the question to ask yourself here is, if you saw a white man smoking a possibly illegal substance, approaching you on the sidewalk and continuing to approach you as you waited, would you have reacted the same way? I think I would have. I’m thinking you probably would have too, right? ;) If so, then I don’t believe your actions were racially motivated.

It would be nice to feel 100% certain that no one in this world is out to cause us harm, but that unfortunately just isn’t the case.

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Rhonda • October 20, 2008 at 11:50 pm

I’m not going to read anything into this other than it was your instinct to get the heck out of there! I don’t see it as a racial thing. When I’ve felt unsafe or uncomfortable in situations, I think it’s a safety mechanism. You are a girl who was alone……I would’ve done the same thing!

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QueenB • October 21, 2008 at 12:21 am

It’s easy to love/like/accept/embrace everyone who’s like you. The challenge is to love/like/accept/not fear everyone who’s not.

I’m glad your friend moved into that neighborhood. Perhaps the two of you will get to know the people who live there and form connections and be able to learn the stories behind your perceptions about the people so you can stop making assumptions, say hi and feel safe there.

As a bi-racial woman…daughter of a black father/white mother…I honor your courage to be honest in such a public platform regarding a hot button issue. One word of wisdom: FEAR=Future Event Appearing Real. Don’t let it rule you.

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BB • October 21, 2008 at 12:31 am

I remember a Christmas season years ago being hugely pregnant and happy. I was walking from my front door to my car parked out front-lost in my happiness. Suddenly I realized a sleazy looking guy was making his way over to me. I also got in the car and locked the door then drove away fast. I noticed he went to my front porch. I luckily spotted a police car around the corner & reported the incident. I never knew what happened, but always wondered if the guy was casing my house or who know what.

I agree about believing your instinct even if it may seem rude.

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Jean • October 21, 2008 at 12:34 am

I’m glad you are willing to look at racism as a possible influencing factor. Ruling it out is also valid, but your willingness to examine racism and your feelings about the situation is so important.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject and for participating in “Where the Wild Thing Is”…I love that! I’m fond of Maurice Sendak’s story myself.

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Jenny • October 21, 2008 at 1:50 am

Intuition doesn’t know color.

I have a question; would you have been as worried when you were heavier?

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madison (followmyweigh) • October 21, 2008 at 2:59 am

i would’ve totally done the same thing. i’ve noticed that i’ve been getting really scared too. just a little while ago while i was walking i got approached by a man. although it was daytime there werent too many people around and when he approached and talked to me i (accidentally) immediately showed i was scared and he said “WHAT? i’m not going to HURT you or anything!” and he sounded angry, which made me even MORE scared, but i forced myself to hide my fear because i was scared he would get more mad if i continued to act scared. then he kept walking with me while talking with me, and thats when i got really scared because he just wouldn’t leave. he even mentioned seeing me the day before, which really freaked me out.

anyway, i think reading the stories in newspapers provokes a lot of my fear too. but nonetheless, i think i’m going to invest in pepperspray soon.

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vickie • October 21, 2008 at 6:36 am

perhaps it was HIS house and he walks while he smokes.

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john • October 21, 2008 at 7:12 am

Poor guy was probably just a fatblogger who wanted to congratulate you. :-)

Seriously, trusting your gut is always the right thing. Better safe than sorry.

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PastaQueen • October 21, 2008 at 7:55 am

@Jenny – Yes, I just wouldn’t have been able to walk away as fast.

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Andy Lee • October 21, 2008 at 10:48 am

@PastaQueen – OMG that is exactly what I was thinking! LOL! I’m glad you are safe. That’s #1. If you ever run into him again, wave warmly and smile. It’s enough to respect his space, whether out of fear or kindness.

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Andy Lee • October 21, 2008 at 10:53 am

@Laura – I believe this is exactly what pastaqueen was saying – that she WOULD have felt just as uncomfortable if that man had been any color of the rainbow. She examined her feelings in the light of racist or prejudice in general BECAUSE he was a black man. Would she have done that if he’d been a white guy? Not. I think it’s awesome to have lots of different kinds of people in your life, but PQ has already responded to making friends who fit her lifestyle, not friends who fit her color schemes. Blessings. Andy

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kim • October 21, 2008 at 2:14 pm

“As Gavin De Becker says in his book, at worst a man fears that a woman will humiliate him, but at worst a woman fears that a man will kill her.”

That is Terrifyingly Accurate.

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SAL • October 21, 2008 at 4:04 pm

It’s great that you have a boatload of sympathizers who allowed you to get off the hook. After all, as a “white girl,” you don’t know–or have to know–any better. As an Indiana native, you’re probably aware that your state was one of the biggest Klan states in the country at one time. It’s interesting to me that many whites do not do any reading on the history of racism, as created by racists, and how it dehumanized a whole race of people (other ethnic groups were affected, but none as thoroughly as Africans). I wonder what kind of life expectancy, job opportunities, and housing opportunities your poor- and working-class brothers and sisters have in your hometown. I wonder how segregation, economic depressions, drugs, absentee-father homes have affected them. I wonder how whites with your attitudes have affected them.

I’ve enjoyed reading your site immensely–but I won’t be back. Your comments, and the breezy way you wrote about your experience, was unsettling. It’s most depressing because you were essentially preaching to your choir. I wish people in this country could work together to create a society where fatties, negroes, latinos, poor whites, and general outsiders weren’t written off. Because it always comes back to bite us in the butt. If people were willing to give up their racist baggage and allow minorities of all stripes and shapes a piece of the pie, we wouldn’t have the problems we have (like poor, drug-addled, desperate men who wander the streets in search of a fix or a target). But I think some folks like being the innocent little white girl and can’t think beyond that paradigm. Too bad.

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Jenny • October 21, 2008 at 4:40 pm

that’s what I was hoping you’d say. :-)

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Maria • October 21, 2008 at 5:25 pm

i came across an analogy on another blog of how to approach the question of “white guilt” and the notion of “racism” that i think is useful here.

“It would be nice to think of racism as a dragon we could simply slay with the sword of good intentions. But it’s not; it’s more of a weed that grows in the gardens of our souls.

So rather than view it in simple binary terms, I would suggest we take a more gardener-like approach to the matter. We didn’t plant the weeds. We needn’t berate ourselves over the existence of the weeds. We just need to get out in our respective gardens and get to work.”

pq, props for you for being brave enough to acknowledge and name the guilt/fear/shame and to open the discussion up to your readers. when it comes to personal safety, in a context where few other people are around, please do what makes you feel safest. but taking the time to examine how this instinct might motivate other choices you make that have a real impact on other people of color, e.g., might this fear cause you to examine an applicant of color differently in the work context — that’s the hard work (the “weeding” from the example above) and it is certainly worth doing.

and btw, congrats on all of your healthy living (of which i consider your willingness to be this open on this issue a part of). truly inspiring.

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jae • October 21, 2008 at 6:31 pm

@Gigi – I’d be more pissed at the white classmate then the two black guys. ~j

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Kari • October 21, 2008 at 7:28 pm

What if there are other reasons a person looks suspicious, regardless of what color they are? Dress/mannerisms/etc. can say a lot about whether or not a stranger is someone you should choose to interact with. I don’t care if you’re purple, if you’re smoking pot and suddenly see me and decide to approach me, then knock on the window of my car, that’s not cool. I don’t think anyone was making excuses here…I know I sure wasn’t. With the scene I see in my head reading PQ’s description, the race of the man involved does not matter to me…the mannerisms are what matter.

Doesn’t it seem a bit naive to require people to assume that everyone is good and not to take appropriate action to protect ourselves from harm?

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Stephanie Quilao • October 22, 2008 at 1:07 am

The Gift of Fear is an awesome book. I think it should be required reading. As I get to know you better, I don’t think any racism played a part in this, I think you are reacting more to the energy you are feeling from the guy. His outer packaging is subsequent. Your gut is the best reader of that info and it it better to feel safe than sorry later because you didn’t listen to your gut.

And yeah, the “he can kill me” feeling is something that women face far more easily than men. Building on my muscle mass actually helped me feel less scared about this because as I got stronger I mentally felt I had a better chance of defending myself because I was physically strong, that and a good self defense class helps :)

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earthmamma • October 22, 2008 at 6:35 am

@SAL – no one is biting anyone in the butt! i think you completely missed the point of what PQ was trying to say. if you read her article again..this time without your ‘racist alert’ glasses on you will see that PQ has not recently joined the klan..but instead she is examining an event that took place that shook her enough to reexamine where’s shes at with things.

hate to say it but if anyone is carrying around racist baggage…its you.

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Kathy • October 22, 2008 at 7:58 am

I realize I’m a little late to the party but still felt that I had to comment. I used to go through the same internal struggle as PQ but I felt better when I realized that I wasnt ‘more’ afraid of blacks vs whites (or asians, indians, mexicans, ect ect). If a large group of young men (or any group of men) was approaching me and were dressed like stereotypical thugs I would be very alarmed and would quickly try to find a way out of the situation. If those same men were dressed like they just wanted to make sure that I had found Jesus I wouldnt be nearly as alarmed (though would still try to find a way out of the situation). What PQ had was a disheveled man that she didnt know and that she believed to be under an illegal influence approach her. If that man had been white I guarantee that she would have reacted the same way, but wouldnt have felt troubled enough to write a post on it.

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pam • October 22, 2008 at 7:59 am

Back in the early 80’s I worked in the Times Square area – I worked for the architect putting up the Marriott Marquis. This was before Times Square was Disneyfied, so it was till pretty dicey, but I never felt uncomfortable walking around on my lunch hour.

One lunch hour, while waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street, a young black kid was standing next to me. I felt uncomfortable, but told myself to stop being a ‘racist white girl’ and guess what? He mugged me. Pulled the necklace right off my neck.

In retrospect, I know I wasn’t uncomfortable with him because of his color – HE WAS STANDING TOO CLOSE TO ME. Had I listened to my intuition I’d still have my necklace.

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Kathy • October 22, 2008 at 8:07 am

Oh, one more thing…I feel that it should be pointed out that the majority of crime commited by blacks is towards other blacks so just being white dosent make you a target, although being a woman might.

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wilma • October 22, 2008 at 10:05 am

@julie – I don’t think that being afraid of a stranger, a man, who is drugged, is at all improper. And Pasta Queen has not referred at all to the ethnicity of her friends–and I don’t think we should infer anything about her circle of friends from this post. I would have done the same thing in her case, yet have a diverse circle of friends. One may not relate at all to the other.

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pam • October 22, 2008 at 11:28 am

Being white or being a woman didn’t make me a target, but standing in Times Square with my necklace out did make me a target!

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Doji Bo • October 22, 2008 at 2:57 pm

The sad fact is, in many cities, the majority of violent crimes are committed by black men, and they are also more likely (according to police reports) to be carrying guns than white men. To be aware of this fact is not racism in my opinion.

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sb • October 22, 2008 at 8:21 pm

@Doji Bo –

I’m wondering if you have statistics to back this claim up?

Since African-Americans are only about 13 or 14% of the total population, I’d have a hard time believing that they commit the “majority” (meaning more than 50%) of the crimes.

If you have data, great… lets’ sees it. And I’ll apologize. But, If you don’t, perhaps you should re-think that statement.

And for the record, I’m a white girl. ;-)

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Kym • October 25, 2008 at 2:13 pm

You all have to do what you have to do but as a black women you all sound like a bunch of racist white folks patting each other on the back for being such. Being racist is about fear, fear they “they” are going to take over, fear that “they” are going to harm us…etc. No one in America has been harmed more than by white men. Bush, Slavery, Wall Street, etc..

You know who does more crimes to white females? White males. Yet most of you are more afraid of Black men. Ok.

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kym • October 25, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Oh, another thing just because a lot of blacks might live in an area doesn’t automatically make that area “seedy” or the “bad part of town.”

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PastaQueen • October 25, 2008 at 4:39 pm

@kym – That’s true, but this really is a bad part of town. Indianapolis lets you view crime reports within the last 90 days within a radius of a certain location. I just looked up my friend’s address and this spot had multiple reports of burglary, larceny, vandalism, domestic disturbance, arrests, threat to life, narcotics investigations and fraud within the past 3 months.

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keiara • October 25, 2008 at 6:07 pm

I didn’t read all these comments so excuse me if I’m repeating someone else. I just wanted to say that I think it’s very brave of you to write about these feelings so openly when society is so ridiculously PC that many will condemn your thoughts even though you admitted to feeling bad for thinking them. It’s nice to know that some people aren’t afraid to discuss their feelings even though they’re aware how some people will react to them. Thanks, PQ :)

Love,

keiara

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Nicole • October 27, 2008 at 7:31 am

I don’t blame you. As someone who was mugged in a tragically frightening way by 2 black men I find that I can’t help but be scared by those situations. I’m a 5’2″ white girl who wouldn’t have had a shot in hell at defending myself and yet somehow still ended up in the hospital. They got $20 and some bus tokens. I got an enormous medical bill. Sometimes life experiences drive you to your feelings wether you like it or not. A lot of our feelings are unconscious and come out despite our best inclinations that they should not.

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Dee • November 4, 2008 at 7:01 pm

@Karen – I agree with this post and PQ’s comment about “the worst thing men/women” have to fear. It would be dumb to put fear of being racist over your safety. It’s when you prevent someone from having a job, or other opportunity that you have to investigate your racism.

By the way, when I was in college, I, a black female, and a while female friend of mine, both took a class about race and I remember my white friend telling me that the class opened her eyes and made her realize she really does imagine a black person whenever she hears about a crime, regardless of whether a description of a suspect has been given. The funny thing I realized, is that I always imagine a white man when hear about an attacker!

We tried to figure out why this is, and we came up with, maybe it’s because we see the people we spend most of our time with as dynamic. People we spend less time with and rely on media, our parents, community, and myth and legend to tell us about, we imagine as these static characters, and often in the worst light. This DOES shade how we deal with people, whether we perceive it or not- so for issues other than personal/child’s safety, we should try to deconstruct our perceptions. For example, it’s really not fair for me to always picture serial killers as thin, glasses-wearing white men.

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Heather Hummel • February 25, 2009 at 10:06 am

Its weird because all I date are black guys but at the same time I’m afraid of them. It probably goes back to when my dad molested me and my mother did nothing to help. My family hates black people and I can’t help but rebel because I hate them so much.

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog at JennetteFulda.com.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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