Black Man Abroad

Turns out the best way to avoid a horde of Neo-Nazis is to ride your bike to another country! Okay, maybe a bit of a dramatic opening, but seriously Dresden is apparently packed with the largest consolidation of nationalist socialist this side of the Mississippi, unless you count Mississippi then who knows. I’ve found myself in some hostile spots in my travels, but Europe has always felt like a bit more of a racially neutral spot than the American south. Perhaps It’s been wishful thinking on my part or maybe the racist guy with the millions of racist followers running for president, or the mass shootings of African Americans by police in the states has me more focused on my personal safety as a black man, either way I’m excited to bike away from Dresden!

Growing up in the south got me used to things that no one should have to get used to, like hearing the phrase, “you probably shouldn’t head out to Orange Park tonight, I hear there’s a big KKK rally tonight”. These fun statements along with silent glares screaming at you don’t belong here, boy, or the occasional random scream of Nigger from a passing car as whatever is at hand is projected towards me and my bike, left me with the intended lesson of knowing “my place”.

It’s not that I believe that I should’t be allowed in certain places because of the color of my skin, it’s an understanding that when I’m not at those bars out in the boonies, or on the west side during a potential clan meeting, then I’m not on edge worried about some random individual that I’ve not exchanged one word with would wish to stab, shoot, beat, drown… just because I’m the black guy in the room. Because of this “understanding” I stuck to the devils I knew in downtown Jacksonville Florida, where you were at least getting beat up for a reason you might understand, such as fooling around with someone’s girlfriend, or someone thought you stole their bike, or maybe everyone just drank a bit too much and no one remembers why the fight started, reasonable stuff!

I recall the last time I was in Europe back in 08’ Obama was running for president, everyone I met abroad was excited that maybe the US was coming around to being one of the cool kids again now that ol’ near beer Bush was on the back end and we we’re finally getting around to getting a brother in the white house. But I braced myself, I prepared myself to come across those good ol’ boys that exist every where, ready to put me back in that place because they’d rather have an African lion in the Whitehouse, than a Lyin African.

As I explored and met people old and young, French, British, Spanish, Italian I started to get this strange sense that the conversation that those folks were having with me, weren't between them and a black man, it was between them and an american guy, and it felt strange to talk to people and come to the perception that my race may have run secondary to the fact that I was american. With this new found perception came a melting of that idea of my place and always being forced to be aware of it. It may have been in my mind, but it put my head into a space where I felt liberated and safe to explore the land without that weight of fear passed down from generations of otherness and superiority complexes, and instead just being free to be me.

The memory of that feeling stayed with me for eight years and I’d like to believe that it allowed me to seize opportunities and push my way into spaces I would have been terrified to cross the threshold of before. When preparing to come back to Europe, I recalled that feeling and I was excited to re-up on that sensation of a weight lifted. I was excited to go to countries where the cops aren't so traumatized by their jobs that they aren't immediately hostile and perhaps trigger happy the moment they experienced the other. I was ecstatic to not have to process what it means if someone is sporting a rebel flag, or perhaps worse a trump sticker. I was ready to get away from knowing my place.

Then it started in Poland, “Oh, you’re biking through Bavaria, you might wanna be careful, there’s a lot of neo Nazis down there.” Now, I’m having to strategize with Abbie, “maybe we shouldn’t bike together through the right-wing rally it’ll probably just piss them off more,” We’re coming across confederate flags in a punk themed gift shop in Prague that say ‘The south will rise again.’ Funny thing is, in a town surrounded by Nazis, I’m still not as nervous as biking around the american south on a Saturday night.