He phoned more than an hour ago to say he was on his way home. But I have yet to hear the scrape of the iron gate, the rattling keys, so I worry.
Most married women fret about a tardy husband: black women like myself worry more. I fear white men in police uniforms; white teenagers driving by; thin, panicky, middle-aged white men on the subway. Most of all, I fear that their path and my husband’s path will cross one night as he makes his way home.
Bob is tall, dark, with thick hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He carries a knapsack stuffed with work from the office, old crossword puzzles, Philip Glass [music], Ebony Man and People magazines. He cracks his knuckles a lot and wears a peculiar grimace when his mind is elsewhere. He looks dear and gentle to me—but then, I have looked into those eyes for a long time.
I worry that some white person will see that grim, focused look of concentration and see the intent to victimize. I fear that some white person will look at him and see only [their] nightmare—another black man in sneakers. In fact, my husband is another black man in sneakers. He’s also a writer, an amateur cyclist, a lousy basketball player, his parents’ son, my life companion. When I peek out the window, the visions in my head are those of blind white panic at my husband’s black presence. I see myself a sudden, horrified widow.
Once upon a time, I was vaguely ashamed of my paranoia about his safety in the world outside our home. After all, he is a grown man. But he is a grown black man on the streets alone, a menace to white [people]—even the nice, sympathetic, liberal ones who smile at us when we’re together. And I am reminded, over and over, how dangerous white people still can be, how their fears are a hazard to our health. When white people are ruled by their fears of everything black, every black woman is an addict, a whore; every black man is a rapist—even a murderer.
So when it’s ten o’clock and he’s not home yet, my thoughts can’t help but wander to other black men—husbands, fathers, sons, brothers—who never make it home. Even after I hear the scrape of our iron gate, the key in the lock, even after I hear that old knapsack hit the floor of the downstairs hallway and Bob’s voice calling to me, my thoughts return to them.