Whites can’t distinguish Harvard from Hoodlum.

Alisa Dennis
Los Angeles, CA

Many white people do not personally know any blacks, or very few. As a result, their only reference point for black culture is drawn from stereotyped, caricatured images from T.V. news, sitcoms, Hollywood movies, or quickly driving through the outskirts of economically marginalized black neighborhoods where they are likely to see boys/men they may characterize as “hoodlums”. Because they aren’t exposed to a diversity of blacks, they have trouble accurately discerning their energy and intention when they encounter us. Blacks, as a “minority group” in this country are constantly surrounded by and exposed to a wide variety of white people so we learn from an early age how to “read” and assess their attitudes and intentions by noticing their dress, quality of eye contact, gait, tone of voice, hairstyle, etc. These subtleties are lost on whites because they don’t have enough practice being around Blacks.

I am an Ivy League graduate with a PhD who happens to have dreadlocks. White women still clutch their purses when I enter an elevator if I am casually dressed! Once, I was in an upscale clothing boutique and I was followed around the store. The sales girls were trying to see if I had shoplifted anything and kept asking me if I wanted to leave my bags at the counter. They were looking inside my bags! Ironically, in the moment they were shaking me down, 2 teenage white girls came into the shop and yanked clothing off a rack and ran out of the store! Serves the owner/manager right for harassing me.

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