When I Realized I am a Threat to Black Men

Dr. Alice Clearman
4 min readJul 23, 2021

I powered up the hill, appreciating my strong legs and body. It was a wonderful Seattle day; bright sun and crisp air. I had decided to take the train to SeaTac Airport — an invigorating walk. Drawing a big breath was as refreshing as a drink of cool water. I was consciously grateful for my robust health. Turning a corner, I headed up a steep slope. I felt the rush of my strength; I could walk up these hills for a year. Not bad for an old lady.

I realized I didn’t know which way to turn next. I’ve always been one of the directionally impaired, with a dazzling gift for getting lost. I stopped, got out my mobile, and breathed a prayer of thanks to the gods of engineering and space technology. GPS is a gift to the perennially direction-impaired. I stood, mid-sidewalk, studying my phone when I noticed two tall Black men approaching. They were laughing, deep in joyous conversation. They spotted me. I was a 65 year old white woman holding a mobile phone with no other people in sight.

In a powerful moment of grief and horror, I realized I posed a threat to them. It was a terrible feeling; I froze. Then I made a decision. They continued to approach; I touched the arm of one and said, “I just want you to know I’m not reporting you for existing. I’m using my GPS.” I know — touching without permission. I readily plead guilty with one caveat; it was my mother-heart that made me do it. I ached at the concept that they may have seen me as the worst kind of threat — a white woman who maliciously uses her privilege to endanger Blacks lives.

They burst into uproarious laughter; it was a wonderful moment, but it shouldn’t have been funny. It should have been bizarre like “the clocks in your back are annoying me.” It was funny for its excruciating truth. A truth 400 years in the making.

We chatted for a bit and they asked where I was headed. Harold slid the heavy bag off my shoulder, taking it as if it were no weightier than a paper bag. Marcus offered the crook of his arm and they marched me to the train station like two fine young men properly escorting their grandmother. I have never felt safer than between these two strangers who were likely a foot taller than I, talking and laughing and making the walk impossibly short.

Dr. Alice Clearman

Psychologist, equestrienne, writer, reader, humorist, classical pianist, science nerd, terrible artist, gifted chocolate eater. Professional procrastinator.