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Don't Ever Ask A Black Man For ID On His Front Step

On the day before New Year’s Eve, BMNB and I had a, shall we say, curious encounter.

The weekend before, someone rang the doorbell twice, and both times there was no one at the door when I answered it. I thought it was just the neighborhood kids playing doorbell ditch.

The doorbell rang again on the day before New Year’s Eve. No one comes to see us without calling in advance since we live in the boonies, and no one had called us. “You get it,” I told BMNB. “I answered it twice this weekend and there was no one there.” I then did what the women in my family do when they come home from work: Run to the bathroom.

To say that the women in my family have weak bladders would be an understatement. My mother had a myriad of gastro-intestinal issues, a weak bladder being one of them. When my siblings and I sat around giving ourselves faux tribal names, I gave one of my older sisters the name “Princess Littlebladder.” She, in turn, gave me the name, “She Who Is Bitch.” It could have gone either way.

Don’t laugh. My older brother: Destined to Disappoint. He gave himself that name. He’s in a committed relationship. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Anyhoo, while I was on the pot, I heard my husband having this conversation at the front door for far longer than should have occurred with a stranger. I thought, “What if the person at the door is some weirdo psychopath who has targeted my husband for murder? And I’m still upstairs sitting on the pot!” That was SO not the story I would want to tell – how my husband got murdered while I was, well, evacuating. And by now, I had moved on from my bladder to other parts. I could just imagine my husband’s Southern relatives comforting me at the funeral and handing me Ex-Lax. Not good. I had to, shall we say, speed up my process.

As I zipped, flushed, and washed my hands, I could hear BMNB coming up the stairs. “Some joker at the door wants me to show him my ID so I can prove to him that Mr. S isn’t here. I told him that even if I show him my ID, that doesn’t prove anything. He keeps asking me for ID, so I told him I needed to talk to you.”

BMNB has a long fuse. This guy was getting to the end of it. I was being called in to intervene.

You see, BMNB never loses sight of the fact that, even with his credentials and whatnot, he’s still a black man in America. As a black man in America, he provides information to strangers on a need-to-know basis. And clearly the guy at the door didn’t need to know, as far as BMNB was concerned.

Mr. S, the predecessor-in-interest in our house, was foreclosed on. In his wake, he left an unpaid electricity bill with PG&E -- our electricity was shut off the day we moved in because of Mr. S’ bill – an unpaid water bill that almost caused our water to get shut off, and now, an unpaid car note resulting in the guest at the front door trying to repossess his car or prove that Mr. S didn’t live here.

“He flipped me his badge. Well, I got a badge, too. Maybe I should show him my badge,” BMNB offered, clearly miffed.

“Yes, Honey, maybe you should. I’m sure a Homeland Security badge outranks a repossessor’s badge anyday.”

BMNB ruminated for a moment. “Nah, better not. I’m not acting in my official capacity.” Nothing like a security clearance to slow a brotha’s roll.

I went down stairs and found a white guy with a hoodie, numerous earrings, a goatee, a soul patch, and a shaved head waiting on my front porch for me with a clipboard. He looked like, well, a criminal. And he certainly wasn’t someone BMNB was going to show ID to just because he asked.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m a repossessor. If I don’t see some ID to prove that Mr. S isn’t here, my boss is going to just keep sending me back here to confirm that Mr. S’s car isn’t here.”

“But clearly, neither I nor my husband look as if we could be Mr. S.” Mr. S had an Asian name.

“I know, ma’am, but I need some kind of proof.”

“But you can tell that the cars in our driveway aren’t the car you’re looking for, can’t you?”

“Yes, and I’ve already looked in your garage and can see that you’re not hiding the car.”

WTF? Note to self: Change garage door to one without windows when we’re flush with cash.

“Well, I can tell you my husband isn’t going to show you any ID. I’ve got something better though – how about a deed?”

“You have a copy of your deed?”

“Yes, and let me go upstairs and get it for you.”

With that, I shut the door and ran upstairs to my office. We had just received a copy of our recorded deed a few days before Christmas.

“See, you can tell that the address on the deed is the same as the one for this house. And these names? These names are our names. You can see that the deed was recorded on October 23, 2008 – would you like to write down the document number for your records?”

“No, ma’am, just seeing it is good enough. I’ll tell my boss that Mr. S doesn’t live here anymore. You see, it’s just that I have folks to report to . . . “

“Yes, we get it. We have folks we have to report to, too.”

“Thanks, ma’am.” With that, he left.

BMNB was still put out, though. The idea of some “joker” rolling up to his front door and asking him for ID? He wasn’t having it. And when I think about it from his point of view, I get it.

As a black man in America, BMNB knows that there are certain situations he can’t allow himself to be caught up in. He knows that if he’s accused of something by someone of another race, chances are that person will be believed over him, no matter how incredible that person is. He’s suffered the indignities of having white women refuse to get on an elevator when they see he’s the only one riding, or having them get on and clutch their handbags for dear life if they do. Like Barack Obama, he’s been unable to hail a cab in major cities, even when he’s suited and booted. Having been raised by a black Southern father, BMNB was made hip to the harsh realities of being a black man in America at a very early age. I remember as a child some of the things even my black Southern father would say to my brothers, things I’m sure white fathers don’t say to their sons, like, “Don’t run at night. People will think you stole somethin’.”

Even though, technically speaking, BMNB is part of an arm of law enforcement, he distrusts law enforcement. This is from someone who has had to defend correctional officers. This is from someone who also had his entire Stanford African American fraternity chapter thrown up against cop cars and frisked for no other reason than the fact that they were a group of black men out at night in Palo Alto.

So, that repossessor? He didn’t have a chance. He wasn’t getting nothin’ out of BMNB. Hell, even I don’t know how much is in BMNB’s savings account. Why? ‘Cause he works on a need-to-know basis. When I need some money, he MIGHT let me know how much he has, if I have a need to know.

I would urge those in the car repossession business to take some cultural sensitivity training. Don’t ever ask a black man you don’t know for ID when you’re standing on HIS doorstep.


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