Fear of a Black Planet

In a minute I will write about the wacky, hope-fueled lovefest that was my experience of inauguration on Tuesday, but this little story has to be gotten out of the way first.

The crush of people was crazy on the way to the Mall.  I got off the metro at Federal Center Southwest.  People were everywhere, all edging slowly toward the escalators.  A space opened in the mob, and I moved to step into it.

“No cutting in line.”

This from an older white man who was also looking to step into the space.  I thought he must be joking.  After all, there was absolutely nothing resembling a line on that platform.  I started to laugh, but choked on it when he pushed past me and snarled:

“Get to the back where you belong.”

It stunned me, shut off my brain for a nanosecond.

“Did you really just say, get to the back where. you. belong?  Really?”

“That’s right.  What do you think you are, special?”

“Actually yes, in fact.  I am special.  And you’re special, too.  We’re all special.  And this is definitely not the day to be an asshole fuss, sir.”

I am still incredulous, still truly amazed that someone actually said those words.  To me.  On the day we inaugurated a black man.  Which is silly, I know.  Of course someone could say those words.  To me.  Of course it could happen on that day.

This post’s title may seem a little strong, but am I far off the mark?  In that man’s eyes wasn’t I just some uppity black woman thinking the reality of Mr. My New President gave me the right to step in front of him?  Wasn’t my lack of deference the knell of doom for a world and a life that he and plenty of other people have cherished?  Isn’t this the grinding fear of people who are horrified by the blackness of the American president? 

There will be no ‘keeping us down on the farm’ now.


I think I have Public Enemy on the brain these days.  I couldn’t help but think of this album during my experience with Janelle and Jamar.  It was as if we were acting out our own video remake of “911 Is a Joke.”  Here’s the second of the videos Spike Lee made for “Fight the Power” (featuring a two-second cameo by Tawana Brawley):

It’s fun to see Chuck D and Professor Griff twenty years younger (Griff looks like a baby!), and to remember that there was a time when Flava Flav was ridiculous but relevent as opposed to the grotesque caricature he’s become.

7 thoughts on “Fear of a Black Planet

  1. Kendall

    Seriously? Seriously?

    I so often experience racism that I don’t know why this felt like a full punch to the chest. Maybe because of the juxtaposition? I don’t know.

    But on a lighter note, as someone who is (for a few more days) only 20 I only know Flavor Flav as the walking stereotype he’s become. Glad to see him before Flavor of Love.


  2. You should have been with us, Stacie. I have been basking in the shared Obama fest that we experienced. We had a young woman sharing our table as we watched the ceremony, tears rolling down her cheeks.


  3. Yeah, this really still surprises me. It shouldn’t, I guess, but it really does. But you know, he didn’t mess up my day. One interesting thing in telling this story to my teenaged students: there is sooo much they shock me by not knowing, by not having any historical reference point for. “Get to the back where you belong,” however, resonated completely. They were immediately angry and indignant on my behalf, wanted to know if I gave the man a ‘beat down’ (yeah, as if).

    Bonnie, it sounds as though you guys had a great experience. I really think everyone who went must have had a great time. How not?


  4. What I could enjoy was the sea of color everywhere we were and it was all good. I’m so sorry you hit a rotten apple. But there were no arrests the entire time. That’s AMAZING!
    How did you get to Washington at the last minute? Trains were booked, hotels were booked…you are a wonder!


  5. Oh, not such a wonder, Bonnie. I took the bus … the nice thing about the bus (as much as I hate bus travel) is that they never sell out. If they overbook, they just bring in another bus and fill it. And, too, my mom lives in Maryland, so I stayed at her house. I’m off to my writers’ group now, where I’m sure I will ‘waste’ the first hour of our meeting just talking about my experience!


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