I tend to give white people the benefit of the doubt. They often do little things that betray a tacit compliance with our great American culture of white supremacy, but to confront each and every slip of the tongue, sideways glance or snub is to risk my sanity, not to mention my unsullied reputation as a fine, upstanding Negro. So I just let some shit slide.
But a recent press release from the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough reminded me that a little outrage can go a long way. The Alliance, which is dedicated to preserving Hillsborough's historical and cultural heritage, announced that the National Trust of Historic Preservation named the quaint little Orange County seat one of a dozen distinctive destinations, citing its Southern charm and natural beauty. Congratulations, Hillsborough!
However, my encounter with its historic preservation had nothing to do with renovated buildings and old trees.
It was a sunny January morning. I'd just finished a wonderful pot of French-pressed, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee at Cup A Joe, the forenoon social center of town. A friend and I were standing outside the shop engaging in a ritual conversational dance. We toed the pebbles in the cracks of the sidewalk and ambled about in circles, gleefully talking and prolonging a get-together that was supposed to end when we finished our coffee. Then a cop car drove up and stopped.
The officer, who was white like my companion, lowered his passenger window and beckoned my friend closer. It looked as if the cop wanted to ask for directions.
"Is that guy bothering you?" the officer asked, intentionally speaking loud enough for me to hear.
"Excuse me?" my friend said, a bit baffled.
"Is he bothering you? I saw him talking to you and I thought he might be soliciting. Mrs. Lloyd just called to complain that someone was soliciting in front of her store."
The cop's volume was clearly meant to send me a message: "Keep it movin'." He must have expected me to walk away, having been caught in the act.
I laughed loud enough for the officer to hear, hoping that he understood my subtext: "Fuck you, motherfucker." I don't think he did.
"He's a friend of mine, who happens to be a journalist," my friend said. "We were just talking."
My friend told me later that the cop then looked surprised. I imagine his eyes got wide and he clenched his jaw. Or maybe he parted his lips a little bit and let some air out. I wish I had seen it because the sight would've been the closest thing I got to an apology. Without a word, the cop raised his window and drove off. We stood there trying to figure out what had just happened.
"The old South lives on," my friend said. Some places more than others, I thought.
"Time for me to go back to Durham," I said.