It was midday, Saturday, June 5, 2010, and I was in Memphis visiting my mother and brother. My mother moved into a middle-class, predominantly white townhouse community back in February. According to my mother, the majority who live in the community are middle-aged white women (“either retired or divorced or both”) who have been ignoring my mother since she moved in; white men and young white women also live in the community, but they are a small minority and speak regularly to my mother.
I was sitting under a grove of willow oaks near the pool when a trio of middle-aged white women came up to me. The leader of the band said that she had seen me earlier sitting on the grassy knoll on the outer perimeter of the complex. When she saw me earlier, I had just recently found a persimmon tree planted on the hill and had investigated the tall grass field at the top of the hill. She asked me if I lived there and if I was affiliated with a dog. I said no and that I was visiting my mother. The leader warned me that I was on private property. I asked them if it was a problem that I sat on the grass. The three of them ignored my question and accused me of corroborating with a black man they saw around the property and with a dog and threatened to call the police on me if I didn’t tell the truth. I insisted that I didn’t know what they were talking about. The leader demanded to know what I did with the dog. I told her that I didn’t know anything about a dog. The smaller one in the trio snapped at me: “Yes, you do.” At this point, I felt so heated that I feared I would scream. Instead, I turned my back on them and walked away, muttering “I’m not going to deal with this bullshit.” They shouted after me, saying they were going to call the police. Catching my breath, but still shaking, I was tempted to shout “fuck off, you racist white wankers!” Instead, I told them to follow me to my mother’s house. I led them to my mother’s house where the leader got a chance to speak to my mama, who treated them with more courtesy than they deserved. Then the leader turned to me and apologized, insisting I had to forgive her and understand where she was coming from because they are the neighborhood watch. She shook my hands twice. I didn’t validate her apology.
Race and animality are never separate states of being for me. I remind myself every day that I’m an animal by living naturally and I am reminded by white privilege every day that I’m black. This most recent experience of racism was no different, only it came during a time when I allowed myself to be open and be animal. I now realize that by allowing qualities of my animality to surface (like curiously exploring the land where whiteness dominates or foraging in a wealthy neighborhood or walking topless in the urban woods on a hot summer day), I’m even more vulnerable to oppressions that impact my life: racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism.