Two weeks ago PokemonGo was released and subsequently took over my life. In the midst of all the awful in the world this game was a much needed distraction from the real world and I nice journey down memory lane. Whenever I fly, I take my phone, my headphones, my wallet, my iPad and my hot pink Gameboy color with the Hello Kitty sticker holding it closed after I broke the clasp on the battery slot a decade or so ago. In my Gameboy, I have Pokemon yellow and have since it came out nearly 20 years ago.
After the game was released, I refreshed and refreshed the app store until it finally showed up. Once the game showed up, I downloaded it immediately. I flew out of the house to play the game immediately and took my dogs with me. I went outside, backpack full of water and dog treats, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a huge smile on my face. I saw this little weird symbol for the park next to my house that is designated for smaller children. While I was standing in front of the park trying to figure out what the game wanted me to do there I started getting this awful sense of dread. My head was telling me “Gotta move, gotta go before somebody thinks you’re suspicious and calls the police on you. Do not linger.” Then the other part of my brain said “It’s ok, you have tiny, non-threatening puppies that are cute and really approachable, it’ll be fine.” However, the sense of dread was much louder and aggressive than the sense of calm. This wasn’t the first time this has happened to me. I’m out enjoying my life, keeping to myself and doing something totally normal and legal when I start to feel out of place and threatened by being myself. It actually happens quite frequently. I edit playlists that I play while I’m on my bike to not have any rap music and only play Lemonade’s edited version. This is what it’s like to be black in America and conscious of how your very presence makes people feel the need to defend themselves or hurt you.
I live in a neighborhood in Chicago called Lakeview East which is bordering another neighborhood called Lincoln Park. Both neighborhoods are a bit more on the expensive side and predominantly white. My dad affectionately calls it “Vanilla Hills” because of it’s suburban feel and the lack of POC in the neighborhood. He couldn’t be more right. In my building, one of the first people I met was my direct neighbor. Prior to speaking to me the first time he would scurry in and out of his apartment and not make eye contact despite my magnanimous smile that went all the way to my back teeth (a defense mechanism I learned long ago to make others feel comfortable around me and ensure my safety). The first time he spoke to me I was leashing my dogs outside my door and getting ready to take them on a walk. He said to me “Oh, these are your dogs (Thomas = Yorkie, Arwen = particularly tiny Maltipoo), I would have thought you had something like a pitbull?” His words instantly made me bristle and made my stomach hurt and my skin get hot all at once. I wanted to tell him he was an ignorant asshole and that not all black people have pitbulls nor is there anything wrong with pitbulls (like black people they just get a bad rap that’s fueled by misinformation disseminated by the media completely devoid of actually statistics supporting the claims). Also, I’m hella allergic to both dogs and cats and can only tolerate a scant few breeds of dogs despite the fact that my life goal is to have a dalmatian plantation per 101 Dalmatians, my favorite Disney movie ever (I even went around biting people for a year and demanding to be called Pongo).
Anywho, my mom didn’t raise a punk, so I settled on angry instead of hurt. However, I’m more than aware of my place in society and the limit that places on expressing myself. Back to Pokemon. Once I figured out that, that weird circular symbol was something called a Pokestop ,I lamented that I wouldn’t be able to use them however and whenever I wanted. There would be no setting of lures at the park that was less than ten feet from my doorstep. It’s too dangerous. Older people in my family told me to be careful about all of that Pokemon playing as my timeline turned from politics, gifs and current events to screenshots of the step counter on my Apple watch and Pokemon I’d caught. At first I balked at the concern as I’m not a dummy and might even be considered a little overly cautious. I barricade my door with a steel bar and double lock my other door and push my end table in front of it so I can be woken up by the noise of the door opening. I also don’t walk my dogs past the courtyard of my building past a certain hour. Black girls that go missing don’t get news headlines or extended search parties. Natalie Holloway got more man power behind the search for her than hundreds of black girls and women have in decades. My brain moves very quickly because it has to. All of my moves are extremely calculated because they have to be. I am a black woman in America and I’m well aware of what that means. I know the slogan for Pokemon is gotta catch em all. However, I’m not likely to do so because it’s just not safe.