What we internalize, and how we respond and engage, very much reflects our lived or learned experiences, or the fabric and dynamics of the society(ies) in which we operate, and shape our social interactions and belonging.
Over the weekend, during one of our family activities I had a piercing experience of Fundraising While Black (FWB). I am not claiming the experience of FWB is uniform to all Black folks, but the visibility of color, race, Blackness, is the ‘sad’ reality, of living in America.
Particularly, as a Black person in America, even a simple act of hanging “Scouts Popcorn Fundraisers” door-to-door in predominantly White suburbia neighborhood, can be quite traumatizing! Don’t be turned off, I am not gonna badmouth my neighbors as nasty, racist and mean-spirited; I do not know plenty of them to opine about their sentiments toward me. Perhaps, that is a problem, on its own.
The ones I have met and interacted with, are a mixed bag. Some, are really good people, who I have meet while dropping off or picking up our children from the bus stop, or while walking in the neighborhood, with their dogs, at the mailbox or enjoying the outdoors. They have stopped to say hello, and we have engaged in extended conversations. Others have seen me running on snow, sleet, rain, humid, pollen days, and let me know they were in awe of me!
Friends in my neighborhood have also introduced me to friends. Engaging in community activities has also broadened my social network, like Valentine’s Day celebration at my immediate neighbor’s, Child of Mine’s “Kids Patrols Laurel Lake CleanUp” on Earth Day, or Halloween “Trick-Or-Treat”, or selling icy’s with my child’s cousins this summer.
But there are also neighbors who don’t give a rat ass whether I exist here or on planet. Some won’t respond when I give them a, “Hi” or smile. Others will not control their dogs charging at me, while running on the streets past their house. Sometimes, the dogs unexpectedly run after me, before their owners reluctantly call them back. But the Oscar for “worst neighbor” goes to an old man we met this past summer, while chaperoning child and his cousins to sell Icy’s in the neighborhood.
One of our immediate neighbors, who we had never met, accused us of “importing immigrants from abroad to live in America on his tax revenue, then sending them to NYC for school.”I tried to explain to them that, “No, those are Child’s cousins, who come over from New York to visit.” Instead, threatened to call the police on us, to investigate us, and spelled out his Penn Law degree credentials. I apologized for knocking at his door, gathered my entourage and left his home immediately. But Child was already and sobbing, terribly traumatized by the mean nasty old man threatening us. He has since vowed never to walk by his house again…[except, the times he did not seem to recognize the house each time, we have passed by].
Anyway, back to FWD. This weekend, we decided to step-up our Cub Scout Popcorn sale to “Support Our Troops”, with only a week left. We went around hanging flyers on doors in our neighborhood, avoiding to knock at doors, unless we personally knew the occupant(s). We felt safe to put the Door Hangers with information about our fundraiser, name of Cub Scout, contact phone number and email address.
Still, it was quite a scary exercise, entering people’s yards and walking up to their doors. Even if the inside door was opened, we simply hang the flyer and left, unless the owner saw us and came up to speak with us. We literally crept away from the door, and out of their yards, ensuring we were not visible. We caught a couple of prying eyes peeping through windows; some open the doors, others did not come out.
Moreover, because we are black, I made sure we took extra caution. I gave Child extra ‘warnings/instructions’ and “Do Not List”:
- Do not wear your hood on your head, or you might look like Trayvonn Martin.
- Do not run to and away from the door, or you might be mistaken for a thug and trespassing.
- Do not look through people’s houses or windows, but stand in front of the door, or someone could shoot you for peeping.
Yes, he is just a 7 year old. But, this is Our America!
I know he does not understand right now all these “Don’ts”, but he will understand when he grows up. When his innocence, as another school, community and neighborhood kid and friend, is stolen from him, because of the color of his skin relative to his society. No doubt, some people are already judging him, from the little they see and know of him, by the way he speaks, the way he walks, the way he carries himself.
At seven years of age, this Black Child of Mine has the responsibility to carry himself to “Societal expectations”. I should not appear scared or scary, or he might look suspicious.
Once, shortly after his fifth birthday, someone close to him told him, “Don’t shoot me; we have to learn to live together,” because he said he did not like her [in reality, he was not yet comfortable with her].
I told him people could shoot anyone caught peeping through their windows or trespassing on their yards, and would not go to jail because they can say they were defending themselves. More over, chances are higher, if you are Black; there is not much safeguard to hide behind, not even for a Cub Scout.
How I wish we could raise money standing by the streets! But that has not been practical nor fruitful in a neighborhood without sidewalks. Maybe, if we were in the city or in a more familial environment, like Uganda, less traumatizing about standing out or more optimistic about friendlier reception. Somewhere I would feel I have the Right to Belong, where I could just knock at the door, with my child, without the politics of race, color laden in my head. That’s all I wish.
Throughout all my years of fundraising, I keep learning new lessons about “identity formation” or “identity contestation”. Who I am, in the particular society, who knows or does not know me, and how that shapes their engagement with me. This time, I am learned first hand, the burdens and responsibility of FWB – Fundraising While Black!