My old friend Josiah is the creator of and writer for a show on Comedy Central called “Legends of Chamberlain Heights.” It can be lazily summarized as a black version of “South Park” but if you understand it, it’s actually a very nuanced look at black culture. You should watch it. Even if you don’t fully understand what’s happening in the show, some of the themes transcend racial boundaries and become easily accessible tidbits of socially aware, yet comedic gold.
In the second episode of this season (titled “Chocolate Milk”), a white guy wants so desperately to be black that he uses a tanning salon to look more like Chris Brown. After his transformation is complete, life has never been better for the guy and he starts to neglect his friends and become an asshole. So, eventually, one of the homies purposely changes the setting on his tanning machine so that he looks more like Akon. At this point, life is miserable. Black and white people alike treat him like a second class citizen, a thief, ugly, etc. until he’s almost fully broken down emotionally. Then, like a final blow, someone else comes at him with more negativity. He starts to lose it and begins breaking things and hitting people. His friends get scared that he’s going to destroy everything and they tell him to “take it easy.” The brilliance of the show is summed up in his angry response:
“WHY I ALWAYS GOTTA BE THE ONE TO TAKE IT EASY?!”
On Saturday afternoon I headed down to Pacific Beach in San Diego to meet up with my homie Keoni with whom I used to play AAU basketball back in high school. My brother, my girl, and I met him at a place called Shore Club, which was one of those spots with a long line that’s located right by the water. I’m pretty sure every beach city from daygo-to-the-bay has one.
Anyways, we had been inside for maybe three hours. I had bought trays of shots for the group. Nobody was causing a scene. The music was dope. It was just a great pre-fourth turn up… Until it wasn’t.
Literally out of nowhere I feel a hand in my pocket. I’ve always had super quick reflexes (it’s why I get stung by bees on my neck and hands so often. I feel it and smack without thinking) so my first reaction is to grab down on whatever is happening down there with the quickness. I whip my hand back up and realize inside my hand in a random white girl’s wrist, and her hand is full of my stuff. My phone, wallet, and keys are STILL IN HER HAND. It honestly happened so fast that I was confused at what I was seeing.
With her wrist still in my right hand, I grab my stuff out with my left and say “WTF are you doing?”
“You stole my stuff!” she brazenly yells back at me.
After years of being accused of things and knowing how this can end, I walk her over to the nearest bouncer and explain to him what happened. There are a few things you need to keep in mind here. First, the whole time it took from my feeling her in my pocket to when I got her to the bouncer might have been 10 seconds. He was very close and everything developed very quickly. Second, I had her wrist the whole time. My immediate thought was that if I let it go, it would be a he-said-she-said and the wrist was some sort of proof for my side as far as I saw it.
Back to the bouncer. I explained to him that I was being accused of stealing, but that her hand was literally on my stuff and — he gives her the slightest nod in the middle of my coddamn sentence! I look at him and tilt my head and say “oh you know each other?” and I walk away, looking for the next bouncer. Mind you, this first bouncer was black, so the when I found the next bouncer 5 feet away who was also black, I wasn’t surprised that they were looking at each out with an unmistakable unspoken communication that screams “I got you homie.”
I literally say out loud “oh shit.”
Now I’m hustling. I see a group of bouncers on the other side of the room. There’s like four of them, all white. I look back at the first guy and the girl is now BALLING TEARS. Great. I get to them as quickly as possible and start to explain whats happening. I tell them that I think the first guy knows the girl and that I just need someone in the building who will listen to my story and be unbiased. Right then, the second black bouncer comes over and explains that he needs to talk to me outside. Mind you, it’s probably been about 65 seconds since the hand was in the pocket so it’s all happening so fast. Also keep in mind that this place is up like two flights of stairs so “outside” basically means “we want you to leave.” All the bouncers in front of me now pretend that they can’t hear my story. Like my words literally have no volume to them or something. The other guy repeats that I need to go outside with him. I yell out “WHY?!” It was probably the only word I said louder than necessary to simply be heard over the music.
I ask to speak to whoever is in charge. Of course one of them already is. He says that I now officially have to leave because I raised my voice and was being unruly. I can’t believe what is actually happening because my story is not being heard, nor has it been heard. I leave through the side while they’re still discussing how to remove me (I was never non-compliant or irrational). I come around to the front of the building and try to plead with the last two bouncers I can find. I tell them the story and I say that I understand they have protocols, so I guess I accept my fate, but can anyone do anything about the person who started all of this? That same black bouncer from earlier then comes around to the front and explains that I was ejected for being loud and unruly. They all proceed to ignore me.
So here I am. I’m outside and alone and upset. Eventually, everyone in my group realizes I’m not inside anymore and they come out find to me and when they do I’m hysterical. They’re all confused, having not had to deal with what I did. They’re asking rational questions but I’m sick of being rational. I just spent 20 minutes pleading with people every way I knew how, I’m done explaining. I’m angry. They’re trying to calm me down, I’m not in the mood. Eventually Keoni says, in so many words, that I gotta take it easy.
“WHY I ALWAYS GOTTA BE THE ONE TO TAKE IT EASY?!” I yell, through tears of frustration.
I tell this story not because I want revenge on Shore Club (but I wouldn’t be mad if they went out of business for any reason), but because I truly think there’s an idea that racism and privilege only come in the form of police brutality or white dudes who say “nigga” because they think it’s funny. In truth, there’s no shortage of ways to dehumanize someone. In fact, many of these things happen to people of color on a daily basis. But it’s the idea that these things have no bearing, or as Jason THE ASSHOLE Whitlock might say, they don’t affect me at the end of the day that is an even bigger lie. The fact of the matter is that they do. They lead me (and persons of color all over) to inherently behave in ways that assume fault within ourselves. We eventually begin to treat and think of ourselves as second class. Then, when we’ve been brought all the way down, we break. Let me explain…
As soon as the girl had her hand in my pocket, I didn’t think about getting upset with her, I thought about making sure I wasn’t in trouble. I thought of every way I would be assumed to be too drunk, too loud, too intimidating, not clear enough, and eventually guilty of something I didn’t do. It’s happened before. In fact, the first thought in my head was that I believed her. I didn’t believe that I stole something from her, because I hadn’t, but I believed her story that she was only in my pocket because she thought I had something of hers. A rational person should believe that she was lying, actually attempting to steal from me, and came up with a quick cover-up. But it was a place with like 40% black people and black people steal and white girls don’t, right? In a weird way, I was on her side, but also trying to protect myself. Even the first bouncer (who was black) took her side, maybe for other reasons, but it was enough to allow him the comfort necessary to kick out a fellow black man for no reason. Everyone in on the plot save the white girl and her believability.
What’s crazy is to consider the story was reversed. If I was at an all white-person party and was literally caught with my hand in a white girl’s purse, all her stuff in hand, and I accused her of stealing from me as a snap response, I’d probably end up AT LEAST getting questioned by the police. Even if I knew the bouncer or something, I’d still end up in trouble. The system, yes THE system, is designed to help her and hurt me. I am inherently dangerous, she is inherently innocent and in need of protection. As Hari Ziyad put it, “White women have been positioned as the epitome of vulnerability and virtuosity to the point where they can hardly do any wrong, despite having done so much already.” And what took me all of 12 years of life to learn was that no matter how I speak, or how clearly I explain myself, or where I am, or what I’m doing, her word will be stronger than mine. Not only that, but if there’s something else I’ve come to actually fear, and that’s the feeling of having nowhere else to turn. That night, I kept looking for ONE PERSON to actually hear me out. The feeling going from calm to panic as I quickly realized that there was nowhere to turn. I don’t think that girl has ever felt that feeling. She would just as soon sue the whole city of Pacific Beach than go to bed feeling wronged. And I don’t know that for sure, but I know that someone with the balls to put her hands in a man’s pocket and assume no fault would just as soon go the extra legal mile once she contacted the family lawyer.
But I, Rod Benson, have no family lawyer. I have to exit the building and go home and deal with it. And do it again the next time it happens. And again the next time. Eventually, you build up a tolerance to be able to deal with most of these situations so that you can just live with being yourself. Towards the end of that episode of “Legends,” they address that too. One of the newly Akon’ed dude’s friends asserts that he “hasn’t had a lifetime to build up enough stamina for all that niggyness.” Stamina is required, to be sure, and most people have no idea it’s there, deflecting each traffic stop, job rejection, youtube comment, or asshole who tells you the Black Panthers are worse than the KKK. But like any shield, it gets weak and eventually cracks, if even for a moment, showing the vulnerability of the person beneath. And that vulnerability usually comes off as anger.
I know that this can seem like it’s some anti-white girl tirade. I assure you it is most certainly not. I’ve always said in basketball when someone plays dirty or gets away with a foul, that I can’t be mad at them for playing that way. If the refs allow it, then those are the rules that day. I’m oddly not upset with her, personally, either. She’s just playing by the same set of rules she always has. It’s just SO upsetting to have to repeatedly play by a different set of rules than her. It’s upsetting to try to kiss the refs ass all game and still get tossed. And when you ask them why you’re being ejected, they tell you it’s because you didn’t take it easy. Eventually you get so mad that there’s only one sentence you can get out of your tired, broken soul:
“WHY I ALWAYS GOTTA BE THE ONE TO TAKE IT EASY?!”