Absorbing Light

I was racially profiled, again.

It was Thursday night. The second of December to be exact. I was reminiscing about a show that I had the opportunity to take photos of in downtown. I was strolling from my usual Marta station, thinking about what I could’ve done better with my shots and how I was blocking the view of a fellow attendee. I apologized to the person – genuinely apologized, loathing the thought that I could hinder their enjoyment of the performance.

I learned in my youth that the shade of my skin was different, and that difference in color projects a different “light” into the world. Caramel-mocha is what my wife calls it. What I’ve loved about creating is that it allowed me to recoil from the world. I don’t have to ponder on that “light.”

I came to a well-lit intersection in midtown, a few blocks from my home. A man who was drinking beer out of a plastic cup was smiling at his phone, probably hitting up a Tinder date. Then he noticed my face, the color of my skin, my beard. I’m six foot one, two hundred and fifty pounds. To those who know me, I’m a big teddy bear. To this guy, I must’ve been someone who robs people in Midtown.

As he was walking towards me, I went to move my camera that hung around my neck. The man jumped, skirting his feet like a car that thought it could beat a red light. I made the camera visible. He picked up his speed in walking towards the darkness of the intersection. I was going to say, “How are you?” before the man, who ironically wore an Atlanta United jersey, thought I was about to rob him at gunpoint.

No apology. Nothing. I was embarrassed for him. I stood there on the corner, shaking my head, mumbling profanities underneath my breath as the cool carbon monoxide rose from my face. The more I dwelled on what happened, the more I found myself thinking about James Baldwin’s fervent Notes from A Native’s Son.

I’m black and Irish. My name is Aidan. It’s a Gaelic name that means little fiery one. I’d be Aidan Ivory Donahue if I took my mother’s name. But this means nothing. Because when selective eyes see anything but “alabaster,” a term coined by James Baldwin in Staggerlee Wonders, there is no “light.”

I don’t only get profiled as a black man. I’ve been told to go back to Mexico because my lighter shade of black and a man told me to go back to Afghanistan because of my beard.If this man had spoken to me, he would have learned that my name doesn’t ring true.

I’m a military brat with a clean record. I work hard. I am a writer, a musician and a photographer all on my dime. I am finishing up my education. I have a beautiful wife and the cutest one-year-old daughter. I don’t drink. I don’t stay out after midnight unless I’m working. And yes, my family comes first.

But I’m not going to rob anyone to take care of them, let alone a drunk guy coming from the bar with an open container. The only person breaking the law was you, sir. And I asked myself if the cops were there—what would have happened? You put me in much danger as you thought you were in at that moment.