History

By SékouWrites

Like many people, the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of his killer troubled me.

Later, my misgivings were multiplied when both police officers accused of wrongdoing in the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown were cleared.

I thought about what I could do to affect some type of change. As an automotive journalist for SimplyRides.com, I often create something I call a “test-drive-interview,” which consists of me interviewing someone while they test-drive a new car.

Obviously, we talk about the vehicle during these chats, but we talk about it in an organic, unscripted way. And we don’t just talk about the car. We also talk about the interviewee’s career and life decisions, what drives them (pun intended) and whether they tend to focus on the journey or the destination.

A big part of our editorial focus at SimplyRides.com is reaching out to affluent, Black women who are often overlooked by the automotive industry. As a result, all of the test-drive-interviews I’ve done in the past have been with women.

I decided the easiest way I could contribute to the #BlackLivesMatter movement was to create a new series of test-drive interviews featuring successful Black men. The idea being, that mainstream America needs to see more images of upstanding Black men in the media.

Later, I decided to ask my first male interviewee to wear a hoodie during his interview. I wanted to make the subconscious point that just because a Black man is large (like Eric Garner and Mike Brown) and wearing a hoodie, does not mean that he is dangerous or unintelligent.

Before we started the interview, while I was still taking pictures of the test-drive vehicle, an unkempt white man with blackened teeth approached us. While his friend watched from the driver’s seat of a nearby cargo truck, the man spoke to us with a surly demeanor, claiming ownership of the vacant lot in which we were standing. He also kept one hand hidden inside the waistband of his pants—a familiar pantomime implying that he had a gun.

A tense conversation ensued.

After he understood that we were not whoever he assumed us to be, things took another uncomfortable turn. The man changed his tone from outright hostility to inappropriate familiarity. First, he assured us that he has Black friends and then he tried to sell us anything and everything that could be considered stereotypically Black. From BBQ ribs to an “old school” Buick Regal with big rims and tinted windows, you name it, he tried to sell it. Aggressively.

After they left, we tried to get back to our video shoot, but it was impossible to talk casually about the vehicle and it’s features when we both felt so offended by what had just happened. So, instead of talking about the car, we decided to talk specifically about race.

The results were better than I could have hoped for. Not only did we discuss race- and size-based assumption, but also how to discuss racism with our children in a society that considers itself post-racial.

Sekou Writes with BMW