I often have fleeting, racist interactions with people in Rochester, being a black bicyclist (and sometimes pedestrian) who regularly traverses through black and white neighborhoods in the city. Combined with the insults and death threats I get online (which really ramped up since I moved here), It legit happens at least once a month. Right after the election, it was twice a month for a while. It’s like a racist period, except nothing positive comes out of this; just frustration and face-palming. Some have an “Aunt Flo”; I have an “Uncle Beauregard”. The most common situation is a person in a big car yelling, “Get out of the Road”, punctuating with “nigger” or “sambo” or “coon” or “homeboy” or whatever. Sometimes they just scream “nigger” and keep going. All times, they say it and then speed off, as if my legs are a match for their V8 hemi penis extensions. Only one time did a person walking call me nigger while I was biking, but he quickly retracted his statement when I sped onto the sidewalk and told him to say it to my face. Every once in a while, like the other night, a police officer will ask where I got my bike or if I have a receipt for it or something in my bag that is of value. It’s 2017, and I never know if I need to carry my “freedom papers” with me. And people wonder why I’m so scared to death of leaving my house without an ID, even if I don’t plan to drink or buy anything. All of these things that happen on the surface are the canaries in a coal mine of a dark, open secret.
Rochester is racist as hell. The natives love to deny it and talk about Frederick Douglass, but this place is more racist than Baltimore, where I’m from, and Baltimore is south of the Mason-Dixon Line! Rochester has one of the most segregated neighborhoods and schools in the nation. The incarceration rate for people of color compared to white people is through the roof, as is the poverty rate. Diversity on the police force is sorely lacking. This is all systematic, whether intentional or not. You can tout that Rochester has a black mayor, so it CAN’T be racist, but we had a black president for 8 years, and yet Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, etc. are still dead, and their killers are free. One black token doesn’t absolve a community of its past wrongs, especially if they are still in the wrong. I don’t know what happened to Rochester that it is so racist. Maybe it was disdain for the passengers on the Underground Railroad who either passed through to Canada or settled here. After all, Americans in general love hating refugees, even when they do more work than citizens.
I could tell that Rochester may have some “issues” the first time I was stopped by police, and the officer tried to claim that my car’s VIN was counterfeit. That is what he claimed. He followed me for nearly a mile, all while I was following the letter of the law, and as soon as I turned on Andrews off St. Paul, the lights came on. I don’t think it was a coincidence that he stopped me right next to where a predominantly black/ PoC residence was, down the block from two predominantly black clubs. Though this was only one of the few times I was approached by police, in predominantly black neighborhoods, police harassing residents is a lot more common, from Greece to Gates to western Rochester.
I started posting about my interactions in Rochester after someone tried to scratch “nigger” into my car, but only got up to “nig”. Perhaps he had to run, or perhaps he forgot how to spell “nigger”, and he couldn’t google it, because he also forgot how to spell “Google”. Who knows? Regardless, that triggered me to post about my Uncle Beau when he visits. I don’t even post every time something happens. That would be tiring.
I also don’t do it to garner pity or to complain. So why do I do it? It’s just a reminder that things are a bit upside down here, by design. Most reactions to my Uncle Beau ware a few angry faces some sad ones, and words of encouragement or condolence. That’s fine. Despite what some nihilists may say, it is human nature to sympathize and empathize with a person’s bad news. However, one thing really grinds my gears.
If you are saying you’re sorry I was called “nigger” while I’m riding, but you poo-poo anything I’ve said about how society got to the point to where someone thought it is okay to call me “nigger” while I’m riding, then I know a few places where you can put your apologies and e-hugs. If you don’t at least acknowledge the source of the problem, then don’t act surprised at the product of it, especially if you mocked the source. Whenever I talk about Uncle Beau visiting, I’ll see “heartfelt” condolences from a few of these types, and I can’t help but think, “Didn’t you just say last week that it was a 10 year old’s fault that cops pulled guns on him for playing in his own yard? Didn’t you yesterday try to cape for the cop in the Philando Castile case? Didn’t you just say fifteen minutes ago that single parents are too lazy and need to close their legs? GTFOH!” I have no more time or patience for this low-grade fuckery. If you’ve done anything like this, know that your sad faces are noted, and you may get read. Apologize for the things you did, not what someone else did. The sooner we address these root causes, the fewer instances of uncle Beau I have to see, and the less you hear about him.