I’m sure most people have heard of the Black Panther group and all the horror stories stemming from them particularly in the 60’s. So understandably my experience of coming face to face with some of the members of the New Black Panther’s in Raleigh NC in 2009 is one of my more nerve wrecking experiences I have encountered whilst travelling. And I’m sure as you are reading this you will be asking “why on earth would you do this?” To which my answer is…. I can’t really remember to be honest!
So starting this story from the beginning, whilst working at Camp Dogwood in NC in the summer of 2009 I became quite good friends with a North Carolina native Eric. And after camp finished he wanted to show me around where he grew up a bit so drove me to Raleigh to stay with him for a bit. I was only 20 years old back then and probably a little naive but I trusted Eric so agreed to go on a tour of some of the projects where he grew up. And some of these were extremely rough areas, so rough that it wasn’t exactly safe to have the car parked in one place for too long before locals began approaching. And also I found that a lot of Eric’s friends seemed to struggle to get their heads around the fact that he had a “white friend” staying with him.
Anyway so one day he was asked by one of his friends if he could give him a lift somewhere, and it turned out that this friend was a leader in the New Black Panther movement. And I will never forget when Eric told me “look you will be ok, you just need to bring a beer and he’ll be cool with you, bring him two and he will be your best friend.” So I brought three just to be one safe side! And when I did Eric was right, I was all of a sudden best buddies with a leader in the Black Panther movement and was soon being offered some marijuana (which I politely refused) and was being invited to a cook out in my honour on the Monday. Fortunately I was able to politely refuse this offer on the basis I was leaving on the Sunday or else who knows what would of happened to me.
And as you can guess a lot of the conversation was quite awkward to say the least, there was a lot of racially motivated questions, in particular what the situation was like in the UK. And honestly at this point I lied, a lot. I know this isn’t true at all, but my standard answer to these questions was that racism as a concept didn’t exist in the UK and that I found the way people are and talk about it in the USA very perplexing as it was something that would never enter anyones mind. And fortunately this gained me quite a lot of respect, so much so I had Eric’s friend (the New Black Panther leader) asking if they could sleep on my couch if they moved to the UK. And of course I was like “yeah sure you can, no problem!”
So yeah… crazy crazy story. And probably not the safest thing I have ever done in my life but not something I regret. Hopefully no one actually flew over to the UK on the basis of what I said as they would probably be bitterly disappointed! But it was an eye opening experience, and gave me a real insight into how things really are in some of the poorest areas in the USA. And despite my reservations and anxiety about the situation, I never actually felt threatened and was treated with the upmost respect. Though I’m sure without those three beers and Eric to back me up it would of been a different story…