The other day I was at the gas station filling up the ride. After putting up the pump I had to go inside to get the receipt. Upon returning to my vehicle parked at the number 5 pump, I noticed the guy on the number 6 pump opposite my car putting gas in his vehicle. The man about 6’4, medium build with a beard was staring me down right in the face. I kept towards my car as his eyes seemed as if they were trying to pierce my soul. And being the kind of guy I am I gave the soul brother nod and said, “What’s up?” The man didn’t budge a bit. Instead he just kept his gaze fixed on me as if he were a crip and I were a blood and somebody was about to smoke a fool.
I said to myself, “Ahh another pissing contest among black male strangers. Perhaps I’ll mean mug him back.” Then I saw his other male partner opening the passenger side of the door and pictures of a shootout flashed in my mind. Not much of a shoot out mind you as I don’t carry a weapon. I looked away and towards my car as I approached the door. As I opened it I looked back and found the mean mugger looking at the gas pump with a matter of fact look about him.
I walked away from that exchange baffled. Not because it hadn’t happened before. There are times I have been at a gas station, a grocery store, or simply walking down the street when another black male approaches me and give me, “the stare.”
From talking other men from time to time, I’ve learned this kind of confrontation and staring down another man is not uncommon at all. Guys walk or drive the streets looking for other men to stare down. In this battle of eyes, the objective is to fix your gaze on another and if his eyes meet yours, stare and mean mug with your best NWA “what the f*&% you lookin at” glare. The winner is the one who can keep the gaze going the longest. The loser is the one that looks away first. He’s the one that got punked out. That would be my distinction at the gas pump since I looked away.
Anyway, this phenemenom is rather interesting to me. I mean, where did this start? Did it originate with gang activity? And what are black men feeling inside that they have validate themselves or their masculinity with such a primitive expression of machismo?
I remember talking to a man who told me the story of when he was in the Marine Corp. On night while walking the streets of downtown Memphis, he and another brother engaged in this stare. The marine kept on looking and so did the stranger. Finally the stranger spoke and said, “How are you doing?” The marine told me,
Man that f*&%ed me up. I couldn’t believe it and didn’t really know what to say. I was completely thrown off. We ended up having a great conversation and hung out several times after that. But all of my life coming up in St. Louis thats what we did. You see a MF walking down the street and you stare him down and see who looked away first.
I asked him if he knew where he got that came from. He said he didn’t know. It was just what they did growing up. Well it seems that it’s still going on today. When it happens to me, the few times I tried to speak to break the ice the other man just looked at me as if I stepped on his brand new pair of Air Jordans.
I don’t know what to say. But if someone out there can riddle me this; What is that all about? Is this a St. Louis thing? Generally speaking black men in St. Louis tend to carry a heavy spirit of competition and its more rare to find men, especially young men who can just relax and chill out when they meet you. It’s more like a battlefield. I find it a huge turn off. Not that I was ever that way anyway, but I’m just a little too old for the BS. I can fight a cause or stand on a principle with the best of them, but otherwise I’m pretty much a flower child. Live and let live.
Certainly there are things to ‘go’ over. If your family is in danger, your woman is disrespected in public in some ridiculous over the top fashion. But otherwise I’d rather put my health/life or anyone else’s in jeopardy over some stare down. Folks, what is the deal?