A few weeks ago, I was assaulted by a racist white man in Washington, DC.
Walking home from a picnic at Logan Circle, my boyfriend and I overheard a heated exchange between a Black couple and a white man. The Black man was begging for the white man to leave them alone, saying over and over again, “Get out of my space! Get out of my face!” The white man, without wearing a mask, continued to taunt and follow them. The Black man feared that the white man was intentionally trying to give him and his partner COVID-19. The white man proceeded to agitate the couple as they were trying to leave the scene. Barricading them with his body, he screamed "n****r" towards the couple multiple times.
At this point, I took out my phone to record because I could tell that the situation might escalate. My boyfriend approached the scene first to try and get the couple away from this man safely. I followed shortly after with my phone, telling the white man that I was recording him.
Once he noticed my phone, he turned to me and asked, “Why are you recording me? You should be recording them. They tried to sell me drugs!” Before I could even form a follow-up question in my mouth, he attacked me, slapping my hand and forcing my phone to fly and land in the middle of the street.
By that point, many others had gathered, white and Black. After retrieving my phone, I continued to record the situation. The crowd shamed him for his actions and demanded that he leave. He then took out his phone and started recording us, as if we were a ruthless mob. He smiled gleefully all while repeating, “Don’t shoot me, don’t stab me, please don’t assault me.” He wanted to escape, making it seem as if we were the predators when the only true threat was him.
We have all seen this story.
The police soon arrived, and after watching the video and seeing the damage to my phone, they made an arrest under the offenses of simple assault, destruction of property and a suspected hate crime. A few days later, the United States Attorney's Office called to say that they were prosecuting the case and wanted to press charges against him, but only for simple assault. This charge, if found guilty, could carry up to six months in jail.
Contrary to its name, there is nothing simple about this situation at all. Although the prosecutors say that the assault charge was a result from him hitting my hand and throwing my phone, it stretches far and wide beyond that.
The assault was, to my mind, triggered instantly the memory of being called a n****r by a white man at the age of nine in my own neighborhood. The assault was, to my ears, to my eyes, to my being, a collection of atoms, only made possible by generations of people who were the property of white men. The courts do not and will not recognize that as an assault.
As a person on the cusp of being a millennial and a Gen Z-er, it wasn’t difficult to research and discover that this man was a Marine Aviator for 10 years and employed by the FBI for over 20. That his husband was a prominent attorney and executive for a high-level government consulting firm and that the two of them together owned several rental properties as “superhost” on Airbnb.
Despite my evidence and all of the witnesses to his crime, I know that he will win this fight, even if he is tried and found guilty. It is very unlikely that he will face any jail time for his actions. His pension is secured. His estates are secured. He can afford a very good lawyer, court fees and anything else that will make this entire case seem to all but disappear as if it never happened.
While this white man will be inconvenienced for a moment, Black people have been inconvenienced for more generations than most could ever fully understand. Although he will continue to enjoy the pleasures of his life, I will be the one plagued and haunted by this experience. I will be the one losing sleep, losing my productivity and losing my personal sense of safety. This man loses nothing. Nothing, because there is nothing that the world can take from him.
Let me be clear: The United States justice system is not in the business of providing justice. It is in the business of formality. Even in his explicit guilt, I will get no restoration.
Some may ask why I choose not to post the video if it’s as damning as I claim. Why wouldn't I want the court of public opinion to hold him accountable? The truth is I don’t need to because in many ways it doesn’t matter. This man lives up to the ideals of America — the ones designed to benefit him exclusively and me not at all. Why should he face prosecution or find any remorse in a society that has only encouraged his behavior?
I know there are non-Black people who will only believe this story, will only allow this story to be justified if I posted said video. However, I refuse to expose my pain and trauma to scrutiny out of a desire to be heard and validated by the same people who refuse to fight for my freedom or for the liberation of all Black people. People whose weightless apologies and shallow “calls to action” will be soon forgotten and darkened by my frustration with the perpetual viewing of my pain as disposable. This is a pattern and a cycle I have been forced to become too comfortable with.
The public will choose to deface a man who they see in a video, but continue to blindly stand by one right next to them who would do the same thing proudly. White people will share the video hundreds of times because this is racism they can see, but will do nothing to undo the racism they cannot see, even if it is in front of their faces or inside of themselves.
In this one nation under God, it remains that the fervent sin of racism continues to face little to no damnation. The idea of America will always be flawed so long as the phrase “liberty and justice for all” remains conditional and not factual.
I share this story because many of the people who I know and love would never believe something like this could even happen to me. Maybe it's because I like to sing and dance to showtunes, or because I often cry watching rom-coms on Netflix, or because my bubbly personality causes them to forget that I am in fact a Black man.
Despite what some may assume, my college degrees, awards, academic honors and distinctions do not serve me; Black “exceptionalism” will never protect me from Black hate. Racism is not an extraordinary phenomenon. In fact, it's so normal, so rooted at our core, that hundreds of years later our nation still hasn’t figured out a way to function properly without it.
In that moment of assault, this white man elected to call on his most powerful weapon, maybe even one of the strongest weapons in the world — his whiteness. In that moment, he chose to be white above all else. Shielded by his privilege, this man hit me, damaging my phone and injuring my finger, and if you choose not to aid in the fight against racism and white supremacy, you hit me too. You hit me with your silence. You hit me with your lack of action. You hit me with your complacency.
Stop hitting me.
Please, start helping me.