I went to South Carolina for Spring Break, shot fireworks with my friends and was afraid of getting shot the whole time
Spring Break is supposed to be a happy time in a college senior's career. It pretty much marks the end of one's collegiate career and starts the turn towards celebrations of accomplishments and graduation. So you know I had to go on a trip - to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - with some of my very best friends.
Don't get me wrong, we had a great time and I no longer want to pull my hair out. Making it to graduation now feels doable. But, for one of the first times I can remember, there was a point at which I was very afraid during our trip. Obviously safety is always something that I'm negotiating as a Black female, but it's never really been something I've dwelled on during any of my travels and in South Carolina it was. Once we settled on South Carolina, we were excited because we realized that fireworks are legal there, so you know we had to go to the store and get some. We then proceeded to figure out where we could legally shoot them off at because you can't just do it anywhere. Our Google search directed us to Garden City which was about 30 minutes up the beach from where were staying. We grabbed our fireworks, lighter, and jacket and were off!
Shooting the fireworks was so, thrilling and exhilarating. It felt like some big secret that only we were in on, even though it was totally legal and okay to do. Until someone screamed at us to stop from their balcony window. At that moment, for me at least, fear kicked in. My mind instantly went to Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and a host of other unarmed Black people who were minding their own business one minute and dead the next. I kept turning around and looking for people on the beach and thought that every noise was a police siren on it's way to get us and either take us to jail or kill us all. I got so distracted that I forgot to shine the light on the fuse for the fireworks a few times delaying the process and resulting in a few burns of my friends hands. Basically, I was stressed.
As a Black, female, I'm always aware that my safety is a very tenuous thing that is constantly being negotiated and changing based upon where I am and who is around me. But, I've never been afraid like that before. Totally terrified that someone would threaten us for not breaking the law and that we would end up in a terrible situation because of it. What if that man had called the police or the security guard of the apartment building? What if they thought were were going to lash out and harm them? What if they saw the lighter and immediately pointed guns at us? I couldn't help but think that the four of us, all seniors at Cornell with our plans for next year solidified, could be gone and none of that would matter. Cornell wouldn't save us. Putting our hands up wouldn't. Running away wouldn't either. If something had happened we would have been completely at the mercy of the police officer or vigilante who decided that we were dangerous and a problem.
Thankfully, nothing happened. But, those fears unearthed something in me. A very tangible awareness of the way my Blackness can impact situations that would probably go differently for people that don't look like me. It made me aware of the need to not only be vigilante about my physical safety, but also to remain conscious of how my skin color is interacting with the world around me when I travel. My race won't stop me from exploring the world, but it might add an extra burden in that effort.
I went to South Carolina for Spring Break, shot fireworks with my friends, and was afraid of getting shot the whole time. It's unfortunate that traveling while blacks means having to negotiate and worry about things like that.