I’m the ‘other’ American

Yesterday night, as I was walking toward my car on a dark street in Santa Monica, California, I was busily checking my iPhone email and not paying attention to the exact direction I was walking in.

My head was buried in my iPhone. Then I heard the click of car doors locking.

I looked up, and saw that I was walking toward a minivan parked in front of my car on the street (although I was still quite a distance away). Two nervous elderly women were sitting in the minivan looking at me. I corrected my direction and headed behind them to my car, got inside, and drove away.

I’m not tall or big, or muscular, or imposing, and I was dressed in a suit and tie. So, I had a nagging question: Were the two women afraid because I was a man on a dark street nearing their car? Or were the two women afraid because I was a non-white, non-European, foreign-looking man nearing their car.

My sense of self is that of an American. I don’t see myself as a foreigner. But every once in a while, I am reminded that that’s not how much of my world sees me no matter how long I might be here, what I might accomplish, how I may speak, what I might believe.

Of course, I don’t know what was going on in the minds of those two women. It’s possible they would have been just as nervous if any other man was walking up to them.

But, in fact, that’s beside the point. Because that nagging voice was still there in my mind. The questioning was still present in my consciousness. The notion that I’m an ‘other’ has been impressed upon me so often, that it rears up whether it should or not. And I still wonder what prompted those locked doors.

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