When Was The Last Time You Got “Crossed”?

Or were you a “crosser“?

Last night, I was reading a piece in LA Weekly by a 6’2 black man named Art Nixon. He was musing on the various experiences he’s had while walking through his peaceful neighborhood in Los Feliz. A common refrain seemed to resonate. I’m going to excerpt part of it here. Does any of this feel familiar to you?

White people — old, young, middle aged, even teenagers — would cross the street when they saw me strolling in their direction. Even white men who seemed to be in their 20s would, more often than not, cross the street when I approached. Soon, even at a distance, I started to be able to sense when they, particularly the women, were preparing to cross the street as I drew near: First comes the sudden interest in where their wallets are. Then comes the pat down — is it in the purse; is it in the back pockets, or is it the jacket pocket? What a relief… it’s in the purse… perhaps the purse would be more snatch-proof if the strap were looped over the head and worn in the style of the old pony express mail carriers, from one shoulder and across the body.

I’ve seen these women do double takes when they look up to see that I’ve beaten them to the punch and crossed the street first.

One day after emerging from the subway at Vermont and Sunset, instead of hopping onto the shuttle bus I decided to walk up the hill to Los Feliz Boulevard. I eventually settled into a floating, meditative zone in which I was able to observe the world in what I felt was an honest way. I noticed a young woman who, at first glance, appeared very trendy with her crimson hair and black leather ensemble. She looked up from the bus bench, saw me and, in one smooth effort, quickly drew her two colorful, expensive-looking shopping bags closer to her as I passed by. As an afterthought, I did something I rarely do — I looked back at her and caught her glaring after me. That’s when it became clear: This 20-something woman actually knew that I would no sooner snatch her bags than I would apologize to her for the fact that I was wearing a suit and tie and not pushing a shopping cart filled with all my worldly belongings. But I got what she was doing.

It’s this: In today’s P.C. world, even the most intractable haters wouldn’t dream of calling me a nigger aloud (except, maybe, the indomitable Mr. Richards, who apparently does dream, and in color to boot). These days, the more sophisticated way to get the N word across loud and clear is to simply act it out. That’s what this woman’s intense stare was about while she gathered her bags close to her. It wasn’t fear at all. It was more like, “There, I still get to let you know what I think of you.” Now, another question presented itself. If the folks in this neighborhood weren’t frightened that I was going to rob them, molest them, say something weird or even make eye contact with them, then what was really taking place?

The answer was obvious, but shrouded by the hip accouterments of the supposedly liberal, urban sophisticate of the independent bookstores, book signings, cineastes’ queues, Mini Coopers, coffeehouses, biscottis, delicate tattoos, pierced bellies, yoga, Pilates and, of course, political correctness across the board. In spite of all this, when these folks cross the street to avoid me on the residential byways of Los Feliz, it registers as a silent scream of “Oh my God… nigger.” For some it may be almost instinctual, even mean. For most, crossing the street is probably nothing personal, just a wistful nod toward a collective memory when life was so much safer and simpler.

Been there, felt that? Been there, done that? Ever been on the receiving end of the paranoid, condescending street-cross? Ever cross the street when you saw a black man (or woman) coming your way? Ever have someone opt to not get on the elevator with you? Ever not get on the elevator because there was something black waiting inside?

We all know we know this drill.

LA Weekly: Black Man Walking

17 thoughts on “When Was The Last Time You Got “Crossed”?

  1. >Never really had the cross because I've always lived in DC except when I was in Boston and up there then (mid-70's through 80) they was some crazy crackers (is that the equivalent of the N word).My school, Babson, is in the same town as Wellesley. Actually the town is named Wellesley. I did experience strange looks when I walked down the street because many of the children had never seen a Black person up close and personal. The other oddity was the sudden "door lock" as I approached a car where someone was sitting. This was before automatic door locks so the action was very obvious. I then began to do the same thing when oneof them would approach me while I was driving.However, on this subject, what is even sadder is when we make judgements about each other. Last week (on my birthday) I was standing on a major street just outside of DC. It was near one of those super 7-Elevens with the huge gas stations. I was not on the property proper but on the edge of the sidewalk waiting for my barber to get to the shop. This lady crosses the parking lot saying something I couldn't hear. I cupped my hand to my ear as she repeated, "would you put some air in my tire, I'll pay you." I actually believe I smirked — I don't put air in my own tires. To give you the right setting. I had on a hoody (hood down) baseball cap, t-shirt and baggy jeans. The jeans were not intentionally baggy but during my recent hospital stay I lost 40 pounds in four days (another story) and sneakers. My beard probably was a little scraggly because I was in need of a trim — hence waiting for the barber.I answered payment wasn't necessary and added the processs was quite simple. I imagine she thought I was refusing payment because it was a simple process but I was saying it was simple because she really could have done it herself.I checked the pressure in her front tires and inflated them both.When I was done she said, "you sure I can't give you a couple of dollars?" I laughed and said, "yes, I am sure."She went into the 7-Eleven and when she was leaving I was getting into my car (by then my barber was already 45 minutes late and I had decided to go another shop). When she saw my car (2007 Merc. S550) she put her hand to her mouth in an act of mock embarrassment and said, "I am sorry I thought you were . . . oh, I mean . . . maybe I should have offered you my phone number instead of a couple of dollars."Ole girl thought I was unemployed or homeless because of the way I was dressed and the time of day. Certainly any upstanding citizen would have been dressed differently or at work. I refused her phone number just as I had refused the "few dollars" and got into my car.I can't decide which is worse: having a white person act out of a pre-judgement or having another person of color do the same thing.P.S. My medicines get me up early in the morning so I have nothing but time — I apologize for the long post.

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  2. >Nice post Juan. Nice car too. I have a picture of one of those – LOL!Yeah, I hate when that happens. It's interesting how people size you up. I have a landscaping business on the side, so often I engage my clients after providing them with mad curb appeal, and they are shocked to find that I'm in IT also. The suddenly see more worth in me, as if the landscaping work is beneath me. The elevator thing happens a lot, but I will engage almost anyone, so I love to get in there and push them out of their comfort zone. I do it primarily though because I hate stereotypes and after they give me that look I like to let them know I'm not just some nigger.

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  3. >I feel you Rich, but then we often get the type of reaction Lo posted about with her mani/pedicurist — You're Different — which pisses me the fuck off. I am like oh so you looked in your manual of Black folk and realized I don't fit into any of the chapters. Some of them mofo need to buy a vowel cuz they don't have a clue.

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  4. >Not nearly as frightening as the night I was leaving my girls' apartment in Long Beach, back in 1989, headed to the bus terminal. It was about eleven at night and, though drunk, I was in a hurry to get to the bus before the last one pulled out. A group of loud black kids laughed and cavorted on the other side of the street from me and I paid them no mind until one of them left the group for my side of the street and walked right up and put a .45 to my head. I recognized the gun because that's what we trained with in the Navy. Naturally I gladly turned over the contents of my pockets to the young lad and the raucous group laughed as their young mate rejoined them with his winnings. Needless to say I missed the bus but when I called the cops and told them I needed a ride to the base, the LBPD officer told me, "What do we look like, a taxi service?" And they left me there. How sweet.Then there was the time I was staying in North Hills, up towards the northern end of the valley. I was drunk and broke and staying in a seedy hotel on Sepulveda. One night I went to do coin laundry at 10 in the night and saw three young Hispanic lads on my side of the street. Seeing three Hispanic lads in North Hills is not uncommon so I kept walking and then noted that they were pulling masks over their faces. They surrounded me as I crossed a side street and told me to drop the cell phone I was using to call the police. The older, obvious leader, was barking to the two younger boys in Espanol, which sounded to me like I had just stumbled into some nice gang initiation rite. Being surrounded by three guys in hoods and masks is so delightful! I dropped my laundry and ducked into the oncoming traffic and made it to the other side of the street and to a taxi, straight back to the hotel.Both of these stories happened precisely how I told them.So, sometimes being cautious while strolling around the streets of Los Angeles is quite warranted. In fact, after dark, I'll never do it again.

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  5. >Once, my brother and I were in a popular chain store and him and I were walking down this aisle…and this white woman acted like she was scared to be on the same aisle. Well, we flipped the script and acted like we were scared to be on the same aisle with her and she looked dumbfounded.

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  6. >ya kno', i got too much shit on my plate to even worry about these mofos with "insecurities", whether it's my race, my sex, whatever.living in new york, i've learned that you have to "look" a certain way and at most times, nobody will fuck with you. but if you "stare" or look pensive, some will try you just for shits & giggles (a lo term) or see you a "prey". mind yo' own. pay attention to EVERYBODY, regardless of race, sex, etc.you know, it's funny juan. back in the 80's, when i was a teen, i remember going into this mall in tarboro, north carolina with some friends to hang out at the arcade. before going inside, i saw this middle-aged white guy, all dirty and grungy, sitting on the ground. i really felt sorry for him and i was gonna do the "good samaritian" thing and help him out. as i walked back to see him, he was going back to his car, a white porsche 930 turbo as i learned, he was the owner of a construction company that was working in the mall.as they say, never judge a book by it's cover….

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  7. >I trust no one. From people on the street in the middle of the night to white men in very expensive suits. My agent doesn't have a cadre of entertainment lawyers because the studio system is always out for the writers best interests.I think the insecurity lies in people who not only take note of pedestrians avoiding them, but write articles of such. There have been times when I go for weeks without shaving and look very much like Charles Manson's evil brother. I noticed that people avoid me when I look this way but I usually don't go home and cry in my pillow about it. The guy who wrote that article should grow a pair of testicles and dedicate his skill to the true atrocities in this world. There are plenty to choose from.

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  8. >Its not that simple matt…its just not that simple. it looks like mr.man wrote it in light of all this michael richardson stuff that has been going on. mike was vocal about it yet, non verbal communication can speak louder than actual words.

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  9. >Matt, I always value your opinion, but as you know people's worlds and therefore concerns are shaped by their experiences.This brother probably has balls aplenty but is tired of having them "stepped on" because of the way he looks. Sure there are atrocities in the world but there also also atrocities in our country, in our state, in our city, in our community, in our home, and our own personal demons are, in some way, artrocities as well.One of my favorite books, A Lesson Before Dying, brought home for me what it meant to be a man and my Lesson in that was that we first have a responsibility to ourselves, then to our family, and next our community — which ultimately is a global community.I can't feel good about, say "buying red" to provide AIDS drugs to children in African when I haven't given to the Max Robinson Center in Anacostia (a neighborhood in a not-so-nice area of DC) which provides care for adults and children living with HIV/AIDS. Trust as we all know is earned but in a "global" sense some people are afforded trust just because they are and then there are those of us have to work a little harder for it. It gets old after a while and while I have pretty big balls I will tell you I still need a cup.

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  10. >Juan, if you think you're going to change the mind of the woman who crosses the street when seeing you, you're going to be living a life of futility. In my view, people can accept you or they can fuck off. I would never waste my time attempting to educate the idiots of this world, of my city, my neighborhood, my family about race relations. I've tried and given up on that long ago. Before my grandmother died, I recall showing her a picture of Hirut, my ex from Ethiopia. Her response was, "She's as black as night…" I've heard my grandparents say "nigger" on several occasions, which never failed to make me cringe in disgust. And when I lived in Addis Ababa, there were times Hirut and I would walk down the main avenue as we shopped or what not and were verbally accosted by local men because they couldn't stand the fact that she was with a white guy. Should I have fought them all? Think I could've changed their minds about their positions? Unlikely. And I don't have the time or energy to do so. Do you for one second believe that Mel Gibson now accepts Jews as equals and has wiped out his past feelings about them? Yeah. Right.There are many atrocities that flourish in our own country. This topic is not among them.By the way, if that writer actually did, physically have his balls stomped on then that would be more of a tragedy than an atrocity. What's going on in Sudan is an atrocity.

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  11. >Matt, it is not my goal or objective to change the mind of anyone. Where necessary I make my case and otherwise as you said, they can fuck off. However, I will repeat that I do respect your opinion — and the opinion of others for that matter — but I do believe our differences are more than seeing the glass half full or half empty; we simply don't speak the same language. But you know what, that's perfectly okay.As the saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure and I suppose the same can be said for atrocities.

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  12. >Great conversation. I have expeerienced some of these reactions. And I never feel they are warranted. When my husband and I attend certain social functions the so-called intellects always conversate with him like I'm an idiot. I want to tell them..that fool barely graduated from highschool. I'm the one with the degree.I am more afraid to be alone on an elevator with a white male (they are serial killers) than a black man. Unfortunately, our lives will always be affected by race and ignorance.

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  13. >I'm sitting here at 10:30 AM on Dec. 29th babysitting a sale of 370,000 shares of MSFT but the market's not cooperating. So I'm reading the Lo Zone while waiting…. and I have a story in this genre that is pretty funny. Back in 82 when I was in training at Goldman Sachs, I was riding the 6 Broadway back to Brooklyn at about 3 AM with all the other party people. I was quite high from various forms of substance abuse and must have looked it. I was nearly dozing off when two black girls, maybe around 20, got on the train. It must have been crowded, even at that hour, because they were contemplating having to sit next to me. One of the girls had a leather jacket folded over her forearm and I could see she had a "Blackjack" in her hand under the coat (you know one of those short clubs with a lead ball at the end of it). So they look at each other and back at me and, probably thinking I was asleep, one says to the other, "I don't wanna sit next to the cracker!" I tried not to laugh and give away the fact that I had heard her. That scene has always stuck with me all these years, and at the tender age of 25, I learned that some folks don't think much of us crackas either!

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