Each morning I take a walk around Lake Merritt in Downtown Oakland. This morning my best friend Todd joined me.
Todd Whitley is one of those people who wears protest shirts. He is a gay white male, like me, and is always struggling to check his privilege, to live by example. The shirts are part of that. This morning’s red shirt said in big white lettering, “STOP KILLING BLACK PEOPLE.” For perspective, mine said “Believe in Yourself”…in rainbow font.
Our shirt designs very much align with our personalities. I am a good vibes and positive energy guy, and Todd is that plus a healthy dose of activist. Despite (currently) living just 4 blocks from each other, Todd and I only see each other once a week or so. This morning’s walk was our chance to catch up.
The conversation always flows when Todd and I are alone together, and this morning was no different. With the exception of occasional interruptions to “observe the local scenery” (read: cute guys) we covered everything from the upcoming election, to travel plans, to spirituality — he is a Christian pastor, I am a secular buddhist…at the moment — careers, love, friends and everything in between, we covered it.
We walked clockwise around the lake, and as we passed the pergola and onto the east side of the lake we found ourselves taking breaks in the conversation to just enjoy the silence. The crowds were light at this point in the late morning.
A little ways up — there are these benches with a scenic view of downtown. So scenic in-fact that they have one of those binocular things that no one really ever uses — right next to them. Today I hardly noticed the benches or their occupants as we passed.
But, someone on the benches noticed us.
“Black people need to stop killing Black people!” a voice yelled after us.
We turned to find an older, heavy set, shaggy-bearded white guy in shorts and a t-shirt with a smirk on his face. When we stopped he repeated his statement without prompting. It was his words and his sort of arrogant, “and what are you gonna do about it” attitude that made my ears get hot.
Here we were, my best friend and I. Two white guys, one of whom is wearing a shirt in defense of Black people, in Oakland of all places — and we were met with racism. I wonder if this guy would have engaged us if we were black. While I doubt it — the conversation might have gone differently.
The guy was walking away by this point and after a few choice words muttered just loud enough that he would hear — we chose to not engage any further.
The remaining half of our walk was spent reflecting on racial justice, and how important this next election cycle is. The question that kept coming up again and again, “What happens in 2021?” That part is up to us.
This walk reminded me of that.
As for me — I will continue to hang out with people who wear protest shirts, and challenge racists to repeat themselves out-loud. This election cycle will end — but we will all share these sidewalks and neighborhoods long after. Will your neighbors forget who you are after the election? Don’t be so sure.
Did you vote yet? You should — if for no other reason than…he will.
Christopher J. Beale is an independent journalist and radio host/producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach him on Twitter at @RealChrisJBeale, listen to his podcast Unpacked, and reach him via email at email@example.com.