Not too long ago, I was informed by a concerned white friend that I was too aloof and needed to be more aware of others. It seems that many people I know are certain that I do not know them. I walk by them as if they are complete strangers or do not exist. They sometimes smile at me, but I do not smile back. My mind is clearly elsewhere. The experience of my aloofness, I was led to believe, tends to be unsettling. Was I angry at the ignored person? What did they do wrong? Was I just a snob?
The upshot is I decided to be more friendly to others. If I noticed someone I thought I knew, I would smile at them or do a bit of American ribbing. The first day of the experiment seemed to go well. The second, however, did not. What happened is this: While walking to the last car of a northbound Link train that had just arrived at Columbia City Station, I noticed someone I was certain I knew, and who, under normal circumstances, I would have ignored, because usually the only amount of consciousness I give a person on a platform (or street or hallway or what have you) is either, in the way or not in the way.
As I walked to the last car, I quickly stopped to say something short and friendly-like. But before a word came out of my mouth, the person, a white woman, who turned out to be a total stranger to me (and I to her) screamed and leapt away from me with real horror. I totally freaked her out. I tried to explain my error but realized it was too late. I jumped into my car. She went into the second one.
But here is the thing. Let's say a police officer saw this incident and assumed that a black man was attacking a white woman. What would have happened then? The incident clearly placed me in a situation of danger. With black men, it's not unusual for an officer to shoot first and sort out the matter later. Black men begin as criminals, and are only cleared after an investigation that made every attempt possible to justify the killing. Luck was on my side that day. There were no police officers on the platform.
When I described this incident to the black artist Natasha Marin, she told me: "It seems being aloof protects from the dangers of being black."
I will end this post on a positive note: Sound Transit Link is really booming. Its ridership is up nearly 7 percent compared to this time last year. An impressive 81,000 people use Link on an average weekday.