It’s no mystery to me what happened in that Philadelphia Starbucks last week. Two black men were arrested after a few minutes of calmly, quietly sitting in a place that famously welcomes people to come and sit a while.
What happened is white fear entered the room. Those two people in the store somehow became frightening to the manager. Not because of what they did but because of what she saw. Witnesses—white ones!—say nothing happened to make the manager grow fearful, but white fear is so powerful it justifies itself. For some reason, the manager felt a need to get them out of her store as fast as possible. Because two black men were calmly, quietly sitting there, waiting for a friend.
White fear is a powerful force. Once in the bloodstream it can make calm black customers look scary. It can even make little black boys look scary. Ask Tamir Rice—well, you can’t literally ask him because he’s dead. He was 12 when he was shot and killed by 26 year-old police officer Timothy Loehmann in Cleveland in 2014 in a public park where he was playing with a toy gun. People were so scared of him that they called the police. He was killed within a few seconds of Officers Loehmann’s arrival. Officers said they thought he was 18. They saw him as a nearly grown man when he was a little boy. That’s what white-fear goggles can do.