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The Legend of the Scary Black Man

About a year ago, my husband urged me to write about a Scary-Black-Man moment that he had had outside our daughter’s school. These days, with recent events, the legend appears to be enjoying broader circulation, if not deeper discussion.

SO, on an especially freezing winter’s day, my husband – a brown-skinned Latino – had been kind enough to offer to pick me up from a morning Parents Association meeting, which of course ran long. Fortunately, there was a space just in front of the school, where he thought he would sit in the car, motor running and heat blasting, until I arrived.   The sign said, “No Parking School Days, 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM,” but never mind: He was ready and willing to move if need be. A few minutes later, he looked up from whiling away the time on his iPhone to see the school’s head of security, a former NY police officer, approaching the car with his I’ll-get-this-guy walk, a white woman following close behind him. Recognizing my husband by the time he got to the car, he said, noticeably relieved, “Oh, it’s you,” and asked him to move so that the woman, a teacher, could park her own vehicle. Now granted, I don’t know what transpired to bring security out running into the cold, but I’m certain about one thing: It wouldn’t have happened if the man in the car had been white. I doubt if it even occurred to her that my husband could possibly have been a parent.

I’ve never taken a class in psychology, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that such behavior is Pavlovian, simple stimulus-and-response: See brown-skinned man, think trouble. Look at the madness whirling around the President. I once read about a study that found that white mothers, instinctively gripping the hands of their young children a little tighter, and maybe even crossing the street at the approach of a man of color, were conditioning their children to do the same, to feel fear and respond accordingly. And where do you think these mothers got it? This has been going on for generations.

Why do these things continue to happen? Look to the legend and Pavlov’s dogs. In increasingly diverse environments, such as the schools – and universities – that our children attend, it’s time to apply a little rational thinking, to look beyond legends.