Downtown Racial Experience 

A Walk Down King Street: It's a different world for a modern black man

It felt kind of strange walking downtown the other day. Hitting King Street was like leaving my neighborhood. Walking down King Street just seemed like being in a different city.

The first thing I noticed was all the different characters. By that I mean many of the people I saw were young people, who seemed to be playing roles.

I saw this one guy who looked like a hybrid of a neo-Nazi and hip-hop rapper. Then there were the white girls with the black hair and lipstick and black girls with the lavender hair and orange lipstick. It reminded me of my college days.

We don't have skyscrapers in Charleston, but the tourists sure do stare at our buildings. I saw one guy taking pictures of street signs. Another sister was just shooting a picture of the street! I was awed.

You don't see that crap in the hood. Gentrification is bringing more folks of different racial backgrounds together. To me, most of the folks in the neighborhood seem like regular people. Though sometimes it seems like an imposition, you see blocks where nobody but black folks have lived the past two generations and now there are all these invaders you hardly know who don't seem to want to know you beyond "good morning" and a smile. Never mind the fact that 35 years ago black folks were the invaders.

Walking up Meeting Street I got a taste of what it's like to be judged solely on appearance. I was hot and thirsty and had stopped at a little restaurant to ask for some water, but the girl took so long to get to me, I walked out before she returned. I saw some shop with a funny sign I didn't understand — ortho and prosthetics — it said.

Prosthetics I know, the ortho part messed me up. Being the inquisitive guy I am, I went in to ask what the heck does ortho mean. There was nobody at the receptionist's desk so I rang the bell. When the lady came out all she saw was this 6'3" tall black guy with missing teeth — I miss the teeth a whole lot less than I miss those uncomfortable dentures.

I could see the concern in that woman's face, I mean I'm not your Brooks Brothers-suit-wearing kind of guy. My sneakers and jeans didn't make the lady very comfortable, I figured. She was protected behind a glass partition, so I backed up to the water cooler hoping she'd chill out. She did.

My question helped ease her anxiety, I think. But I didn't get over the thought of how the sight of an unfamiliar black man scares so many people in today's crazy world.

I stopped at Hot Spot Record Shop on King Street. James Jenkins, son of legendary civil rights activist Esau Jenkins, asked what I thought of Barack Obama's presidential campaign. "I'm not impressed," was my response.

"Why can't black people rally to support a black man for once?" Jenkins chastised. Obama is the only candidate talking about raising America to a new spiritual plane, he said. Jenkins informed me that Obama is the only candidate among the senators in the race for president who opposed the Iraqi war. That's a point in his favor as far as I'm concerned.

But despite Obama's spirituality and common sense about the war, I doubt that America is ready for a black male president. Remember the lady at the ortho shop? America is afraid of black men. Barack may be the best candidate for my money, but voters in this society will always follow the pecking order: white men, white women, black women, and then black men.


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