How to Stay Safe

With the George Zimmerman trial underway and a video of police harassing an unarmed, ethnically ambiguous teen in New York City making the rounds, Levar Burton was invited on CNN last week to talk about his experiences as an Of Color.

It’s hard to get much more Oreo than Geordi LeForge (I believe if you check the scoreboard, however, I still have him beat. Sure he taught kids to read, but he was also in Roots), but even Mr. Burton feels the need to disarm police by proving well in advance though he is black, he is not a threat.

He here is describing the rites and rituals he goes through when dealing with law enforcement. LB’s best practices include removing protective eyewear and hanging his hands out the window.

Equally as shocking as his cop stop ritual is the fact that this dude has a 33-year-old son! Seriously, we do not crack.

His elaborate safety routine reminds me of the myriad tips women get to avoid being sexually assaulted. Like this list that encourages you to dress down so you can go all krav maga if you need to. Or this one  from The University of Colorado that advised, among other things, urinating on command to gross out the person who doesn’t have any compunction about committing a felony on your screaming body, but who apparently is totally icked out by pee.

Between following safety tips related to being black and safety tips related to being a woman, I have a lot to do every day. In case you want to play along at home, here’s my daily routine that’s kept me out of harm’s way thus far. Let me know if it works for you.

0600 – Wake up and ensure that all doors are in fact still locked and that no one uninvited is in bed.

0620 – Refill outdoor fountains emptied by raccoons during the night so home looks functional and free-flowing, not ghetto and broken

0630 – Begin vocal warm ups so I can convincingly practice arias during commute

0700 – Choose outfit for work. Check necklines, hemlines and overall tightness of said outfit.

0730 – Change outfit just in case.

0745 – Do makeup

0750 – Remove some makeup just in case.

0800 – Stare at (gluten-free) bagel and wish that lipstick application was saved for later to avoid gross red ring around bites of bagel.

0810 – Think about the time my boss made fun of me a couple of years ago for wearing red lipstick the day we had a meeting with a celebrity. The day in question, I had actually forgotten about said meeting and was just trying to look like a professional human. The celeb wasn’t my type anyway (read: black dude). Wonder how often I give off that particular wrong impression.

0817 – Check calendar and see that I have an evening event. Practice holding keys in a stabby way between index and middle finger.

0820 – Look up prices for pepper spray online. Wonder if I will be tracked by some authority for trying to buy weapons online.

0825 – Practice jogging through the house in today’s heels to make sure escape is possible.

0827 – Practice answers to “…did you do something to your hair? It looks—“

0828 – HolycrapI’mlate! (Leave for work.)

0842 – Roll down windows and turn up volume on NPR

0850 – Accidentally make eye contact with man in the next car over. Smile because it’s polite, then call boyfriend on speakerphone.

0900 – Notice that after three turns, guy in the next car over is now behind me. Sweat about this.

0903 – Make a 4th turn and lose my tail. Wonder if he knows too much, anyway.

0910 – Arrive at work. Avoid eye contact with strangers on the way in. Feel like a jerk, but then at least we won’t have a repeat of the great “But We Were Just Talking” incident of 2012 or the “We’ll Just Find Another Department For You” incident of 2009.

0915 – Accept compliment on blouse and wonder if I chose poorly.

1200 –Run errand. Roll down windows and sing È amore un ladroncello to distract from the fact that skin is extra brown from 4th of July beach time.

1245 – Check email to see that there is a flurry of new video comments. Sort between the ones that say they like the video, so they’d like to do me and the ones that say they hate the video so they want to rape me.  Put phone down for a while.

1835 – Leave office. Sing Ach, Ich fühl’s on the way to Ralph’s.

1837 – Feel guilty because yes, stranger in your snazzy polo shirt, I do have a minute for marriage equality, I’m just too hungry to take that minute right now.

1850 – Check messages. Stop at stoplight. See cop.

1851 – Reach into interior jacket pocket to get chapstick. Realize what this might looks like. Freeze with hand there like I’m Napoleon or checking for heart murmurs.

1852 – Crack windows and turn up Next to Normal soundtrack.

1853 – Smile at cop.

1925 – Arrive at venue.

1926 – Find parking spot near a light.

1927 – Exit car, check locks twice.

1928 – Call boyfriend and give him ETA while speaking loudly enough to be heard by passersby.

1929 – Memorize cars immediately next to mine.

1930 – Text girlfriends and mention my whereabouts.

1931 – Whistle and sing to myself while walking quickly, but with a casual air to appear unafraid.

1935 – Pay entrance fee with exact change

1940 – Start swing dancing like it’s 1939.

2035 – Take a break outside. Stand near entrance and several paces over from the man with the weird eyes.

2045 – Use monosyllabic answers to try to deter the man with the weird eyes.

2046 – Position body facing away from Weird Eyes

2047 – Loudly excuse myself and squeeze past WE to go back inside

2050 – Dance like it’s 1949

2230 – Collect belongings and position key in stabby position.

2231 – Try to shake instructor’s hand. Apologize.

2232 – Reach into purse to get cell phone. See cop up ahead.

2232 – Empty contents of purse on ground to prove their lack of threat.

2235 –Smile too big at cop. Unclench fist. Drop protective keys. Do an adorable, clumsy curtsey to pick up said keys and all purse contents. Hope that this near seizure of poise looks less suspicious than actual skin color. Ask cop what he thought about Britain’s historic Wimbledon win.

2240 – Finish explaining what I mean by Britain’s historic Wimbledon win.

2245 – Arrive at char. Check underneath.

2246 – Check behind

2247 – Check backseat

2248 – Check glove compartment

2249 – Dash inside and immediately lock doors

2315 – Pull up at house

2316 – Scan area for potential threats

2317 – Remove keys from ignition and position them in stabby position

2318 – Grab purse close, ensure that it’s zipped

2319 – Answer phone and explain to boyfriend why I’ve been sitting in the car for 5 minutes.

2320 – Exit car and speak loudly and clearly to thwart attackers

2321 – Enter house, say hi to boyfrizzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZzzzzzz

2322 – Dream of a day when practicing proper precautions is less exhausting than 3 hours of swing dancing.

What do you do to keep yourself from being besieged upon by strangers. Let us know in the comments!


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Playing it Safe

I went to see an August Wilson play last night. I know what you’re thinking. Nearly buying watermelon last week, now seeing an August Wilson play, am I giving up on the Oreo lifestyle?

Not at all, friends. Like with any one night stand, I took precautions.preview_600_787

  • I went in the company and at the suggestion of a white friend. Taking someone up on an invitation to an awkward social situation is par for the course for, say, Hampton society, so why not embrace!
  • Pre show, I took care to keep a bubble of unblack patron between myself and other patrons of color. Sitting next to a black person at a play where themes of racial identity will be discussed would tempt anyone to discuss the shared experience of being a minority in America. Such discussions could lead to empathy for and an embrace of one’s ‘culture’, which clearly derails the hard and necessary work one has done as an Oreo.
  • As an extra precaution, before the show started, my host and myself engaged in a rousing discussion of comparative literature.

This definitely helped offset the high ratio of color to Caucasian in the theater.

Then during intermission, I realized: this situation was not as dire as I thought! August Wilson was the son of a black woman and a white man. Not just white, German in fact. Upon this realization, I breathed a sigh of relief and enjoyed the rest of the show.

To celebrate, I’ve listed some other things that are not nearly as dangerous as they seem, plus how they can benefit anyone looking to hide from who they are.

scorpionThe fake danger: With half a dozen eyes, a crispy exoskeleton, giant pincers and a tail that means business, scorpions are as terrifying looking as a rerun of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. But it turns out it’s all looks. These tiny horrors are nearly blind and have only a very mild venom. Getting stung by one is only about as harmful as getting stung by a bee.

The Oreo Upshot:
Even better than the fact that scorpions can’t really hurt you is that they are found in places where people of color are not: remote desert campsites, historic Victorian homes and exotic pet stores.

So if you as a person of color do have the fortune to be stung by a scorpion, wear that injury proudly. It shows that you are hanging out where you should be.

Swine Flu
The fake danger: Despite a handful of deaths and promotable nicknames like “Hamthrax” and “Snoutbreak,” the feared 9o5trTSwine flu is not really all that bad. Some experts are saying that it is in fact much less severe than the yearly regular flu outbreaks and the CDC is considering changing the definition of ‘pandemic’ to accommodate the general unseriousness of Swine Flu.

The Oreo Upshot:
Initial Swine Flu cases were coming out of Mexico. Should you come down with fever, chills and diarrhea, just show off your pics from the white sandy beaches of Cancun with the other white sandy patrons and anyone who was afraid of your symptoms will be delighted that they can reminisce with you about how fun it was to have drinks served to them by brown locals whose hovel homes are hidden by the American based hotel chains who give you decent rates by refusing the natives a living wage.

Texting While Driving
Avoid-texting-while-drivingThe fake danger:
Sure there is an accident or two more now than there were pre iPhone, but the frustration incurred by not answering text messages while avoiding pedestrians on the on ramp is the real danger. Gen Y is accustomed to getting what we want when we want it. Even if we want it while operating a 2,000 pound thing that can kill an innocent on contact.

If we don’t keep our hands at 4 and 8 on our phones and not at 10 and 2 on the wheel, how can we tell our dinner date we’re running late, passively aggressively avoid our parents with a digital birthday greeting or find out if the object of our affection texted us back yet…no? how about now?…Now?  NOW?!?

Don’t think of it as creating an accident by being visually distracted, think of it as avoiding the death of our self-esteem, which is way more important than that guy selling roses and oranges by the side of the road who we just grazed.

The Oreo Upshot
Everyone has a cell phone, so that’s not going to make you stand out. But if you can get someone to call you to trigger your Grateful Dead ring tone while the cops are finishing your accident report, so much the better!

Move 10. e5
The fake danger:
ChessThat’s right, chess fans. What was once seen as a problem move in the trusted Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defense, is playable after all. Thank to the continued efforts of the folks at Rybka, there are many solutions this seeming stalemate of a move. Including of course, but not limited to: 10. h6, 11. Bh4 dxe5, 12. fxe5 (alt: 12 wfd7).

The Oreo Upshot:
If you understood any of that, you have Oreo points for life, even if you do decide to watch an episode of House of Payne.