When you fit the description

Writer Yasin Mohamud pens an all too familiar tale in the Star Tribune’s 10,000 Takes series about the time he was stopped by the cops in Edina because he fit the description of those involved with “keying” cars at the Macaroni Grill. He was 16 at the time, he writes today.

He was told by police to stand on the sidewalk. His request to be informed why he was stopped went unanswered for an hour and a half when he was told he looked like the description given to the police.

There was just one big problem: He didn’t.

He went to the Grill and was told by the supervisor that the description to police was of white kids.

A few months passed. With Christmas a few weeks away, my friend and I went to Southdale Center to look at lights and kill time. We entered Macy’s and started looking at wallets. After a few minutes, a white middle-age sales clerk approached. She said to us with a grin, “Just so you know, we have cameras.”

We asked what she meant by that. Sensing our unhappiness, she claimed she meant nothing. We complained to her manager and received an apology and coupons. Another sales clerk, a Hispanic male, told us she treats all the nonwhite customers that way.

At this point, something switched in my brain. I suddenly saw the pattern. I kept encountering racism at the hands of white adults. I took comfort in the notion that maybe it’s just a generational thing, maybe racism will die off by the time I have kids of my own.

This is the routine of being non-white in the Twin Cities, particularly in the suburbs. Here’s the question: Why do white people reject the validity of the experiences of people to whom this happens on an ongoing basis?

As an adult, I see this country differently from when I was a carefree teenager. My youthful encounters with racism made me vigilant and quick to stand up to even the slightest perception of bias. And now, with injustices being broadcast to the world, I have become unapologetically black. I no longer go along to get along. The only way to truly be seen is to be heard and that is why I became a writer. Black people need to be heard and believed when we say racism is real. There is no victim or race card. The racism we experience is not imagined; it’s a sickness this country needs to heal from.