Monday, June 23, 2014

Road Trip while Black: Running into White Vigilantes

I have to share the story of what happened to me this past weekend. Fortunately, I was with friends when the situation happened.

Basically, my two friends and I went on a weekend trip to a retreat. This retreat is out in the country. We're in the mountains. My phone barely has reception. I'm regularly sighting deer. This is all novel for city folks like us.

So one of the nights we left to get fast food. We drove to the local little town and found something and then starting to drive back to the retreat. It was about 10:30 at night.

Although there's three of us we don't quite remember how to get back so we end up making the wrong turn. No big deal, right? We turn on this small, secluded kinda road. It's very quiet. I jokingly said to my friends that we should get out of there because ironically we had made the same wrong turn when we first arrived to the retreat the day before and in the day time we had seen a huge confederate flag on one of the homes.

This is California. There's no way that a person could say they're celebrating the South with the flag (and we all know what that means anyway). But even though I was semi-serious about the confederate flag it was still kinda a joke at that point.

Like how funny! We're in the boondocks with people who are more than likely very racist! haha! How backwards! You don't see this back home! What are we in the South?

I mean the thing is that a lot of white people are racist. However, in California you don't really think that translates into action unless it's within the realm of police brutality (see Fruitvale Station). People more attribute that with the Deep South. In California, we expect racist words or to be disdainfully treated. You don't think an actual white vigilante will run up on your car but that's EXACTLY what happened to us!

Plus, the dude came out of nowhere! One second we were on the side of the road looking at a deer and the next I see this man running towards our car!

Mind you we're on a public road clearly owned by the State of California and this man is very threateningly screaming at us "Get the F off my property!" And not only is he telling us to leave but he is trying to approach the car and even open the driver's side.

So we quickly reverse the car because we want to get out of there more than he wants us to get out of there but we also don't want to run the guy over which is what he seemed to want us to do with the way he would not move from in front of the car.

And even when we backed up he still didn't want to let us drive past. He was still trying to stop us by getting in front of the car but we were able to quickly swerve around him and escape.

I swear on my life this man did not want us to get off this road. At least while unharmed. And we were just incredibly fortunate that he had no weapon on him because we were in area where everybody owns a gun because it's hunting territory.

And then to make matters even scarier we ran into two more white men. They were dressed in all black just leering at the side of the road with a hunting dog. And they were looking at us so hard. I knew we had to get out of there!

The terrifying part was that all three of us knew that there was really nothing we could do if we were attacked except attempt to lose them. We couldn't call the police. The police are more than likely related to these watch groups anyway which is why they are able to illegally patrol areas like that. The police would either conveniently have a slow response time (as historically happened in the case of vigilante justice/ lynching/ and etc.) or become part of our problem by labeling us as the aggressors.

We don't trust city police. We definitely don't trust country police in all white areas.

But thankfully, the situation didn't get any worse and we were able to get away from them and get back to where we actually belonged.

After this was all said and done and we had finally gotten back to the retreat location I did some cursory internet research and found that the area we were in has a certifiable white supremacist vigilante group.

After that experience I promise I'll never make a joke about confederate flags or the KKK ever again. It's so easy for us to forget that active violence against Black people is still occurring. I wonder: Is this the fear that Trayvon Martin felt when he was accosted? Except I had two friends and we were in a car. Trayvon was alone and on foot. The angry man we ran into didn't have a weapon. The angry man Trayvon ran into did.

It's so easy for us to say this only happens in the Deep South or in Florida. But the truth is that this is happening all over the country. It's happening in Democratic blue California.

It's amazing that when you're traveling while Black you're never just innocently taking a road trip and seeing new places. You have to be aware of your environment and know if you're in a staunchly anti-Black area. This is something I didn't even think about. Even when I saw the confederate flag I wasn't fully convicted that I should be concerned for my physical safety.

And it's made me realize that I can't take racist imagery for granted. And also, I can't act like I have the same freedom to travel and explore as others do. Three Black people can't stop on a random side road and look in wonderment at a deer because we might get caught up in a racial altercation.

So anyway, I am thankful to be alive. I'm thankful that nothing more major occurred. I am even more happy to be back home in the city where white vigilante groups aren't as much of an issue. And I'll take this experience as a learning lesson and as an opportunity to share and bring awareness to the normalcy of anti-Black violence.

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  1. That's just so wrong. America needs to wake up and stop tolerating or encouraging this stuff.

    1. Exactly. I've seen them called 'homegrown terrorist organizations' which is an apt description. But they're treated like they're innocent little interest clubs and not as the real danger that they are.

  2. What a scary experience. I'm just glad you and your friends are all right. Yeah, uh... totally living in a post-racial society, right? Please.

  3. This was very upsetting to read.

    1. I want to clarify that I'm gonna say this in the spirit of wanting to share with you why comments like this (in these contexts) aren't going to be well received by many Black folks/ people of color.

      I'm writing about a very scary experience where I incidentally ran into a white vigilante who was actively trying to attack my friends and I. While it may be upsetting for you to read about this imagine how upsetting it was to actually experience it and to put this experience in the perspective of a larger trend of anti-Black violence.

      Furthermore, your response centers your personal feelings which is inconsiderate when another person has experienced trauma. For example, if somebody had just gotten their wallet stolen and they tell you about it the appropriate response wouldn't be: "I feel bad that you told me this" it would to express sadness/ or solidarity with the person who had their wallet stolen. Same thing here.

      But I see this commonly occur with well-meaning white people because they're stuck in "white guilt." Which seems benign but in actual fact works to further silence or marginalize issues of racial inequality. Because now it's about how white folks feel bad that racism exists and not about the actual racism.

      The purpose of this article is not to feel bad or upset. It's to recognize that white supremacist groups are still real and functioning and provide a threat to the well-being of people of color all around the country.

      I couldn't in good conscience pretend as if this comment didn't bother me. So I wanted to respectfully explain what I found wrong with it in as plain terms as possible.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. I've heard stories of white supremacists and survivalists hiding out in the Sierra foothills. And I've heard some ugly racist incidents in some of the Central Valley towns like yeah, there are some scary people in CA and you never know when you might run into the Crazy.

    1. I guess you could say I was in the Central Valley when it happened. Yeah, a lot of people don't know about the persistence of white supremacist groups in California. The KKK has a lot of strong-holds in many cities... and not just country cities either. It's just not well known or conveniently kept undercover until a hate crime occurs and then everybody goes: "What happened?"

  5. Lord, how disgusting. That must have been terrifying.