In a piece titled "Fear of black men: how society sees black men and how they see themselves," NPR's Michel Martin interviewed African-American men about what it's like to know that people are often afraid of them.
Georgetown University law professor Paul Butler and Daddydoingwork.com blogger Doyin Richard relayed all-too-familiar stories about being treated as suspicious by police. Butler said officers outside his DC home told him they thought he was a burglar, and Richard recalled a stranger at an ATM tensing up and rushing away when he approached.
But one of Richard' s anecdotes really drove home the indignity faced by those who are feared based on their race and gender. Richard confessed he found himself whistling songs from a Disney movie in a desperate attempt to get people to see him as a father with a family instead of as a threat:
"Sometimes if I am walking down a street or something, I am whistling Frozen songs just to prove that ... 'Hey I have kids, I am not a threat to you. I just want to go home to my family.'
The men's experiences aren't surprising, given what we know about racially biased policing from Ferguson, Missouri (where a Justice Department report in March found that police routinely violated the constitutional rights of African Americans), to New York City (where a 2014 study of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program concluded that black and Latino residents were its overwhelming targets). Plus studies on implicit racial bias leave no doubt that many people may associate black men with crime and danger in ways they aren't even aware of.
But these accounts are poignant reminders that aside from all the statistics, reports, and political debates, what racial profiling really means for many black men is that they have to do the daily, sometimes humiliating work, of adjusting their conduct to accommodate other people's irrational fears.
Listen to the full interview at NPR.