I stood on the doorstep as he peered out. Two piercing white eyes set in a thick brown face. He opened the door just a crack, casting a glance into the dark abyss behind me. Seeing no immediate threat, he opened the door a bit more - just enough to speak. "What you want?", said the stranger. "I'm here to see Pam and the baby," I stammered. "I'm the photojournalist that she probably told you about? I've been spending time with her and Jeremiah over at the hospital."
The man looked at me, suspicious. After a span of several seconds, he said, "I'm Pam's father. She ain't here. The baby ain't neither."
He still hadn't opened the door. I could sense his hostility and I knew that I was overstaying my welcome. Heck - I had no welcome.
Then I heard a more shrill voice beyond the door. "It's alright - you can let him in."
The man stopped a moment, as if he considered shutting me out. But then a thin frail woman appeared behind him. She placed her hand on his back, saying "It's alright. He's a friend of Pam's." The man's composure changed suddenly - and he opened the door.
This happened to me just last night. I was a white boy with a camera invading a black neighborhood at 8pm. My association with the University had left me disconnected with the real world. While race doesn't rear its head as a divisive issue in the Carolina community, it certainly plays a heavy role in the world beyond UNC.
This happened once before, during this semester. I was driving through East Durham in the late afternoon, searching for an intentional living community that I hoped to spotlight in my latest photojournalism project. This area of Durham was less developed than the surrounding neighborhoods. Urban decay had set in years ago. Houses rested in shambles, cars sat abandoned. And children ran in the streets.
I drove slowly, looking left and right up the roads for the house with the tall white columns and okra growing out front. As I did so, I passed a group of eight to ten children - early-elementary-school-aged. In my 2007 Hyundai, I was an uncommon sight. The children saw me as I passed. I waved warmly, hoping to receive the same welcome. But that wasn't at all how they responded.
First, they just stared. Not a single wave back. Just blank and empty stares. Then one of them launched his toy car in my direction. Another yelled about the color of my skin. Yet another hollered after me, "Get out of here, Honda!"
I drove around the corner of the block and parked. I turned off the ignition, placed my hands flat on the wheel, and let the cogs start to turn. As the gears turned, I pulled out my Moleskine and started jotting my thoughts down. These are my questions. They're pertinent. Why would these children be so hostile towards a friendly smile? What makes race such a divisive thing? How will this play out in the future? Will racism always be incubated in these inner-city black communities just as it is in white-run small towns across our state and nation? If we strive to be a unified body, how can we allow such division to exist?