The year was 1997. I was a new immigrant to the United States, having arrived from Guyana to Queens, New York in September 1996. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of Guyana, I decided to continue my pursuit of journalism, which I had begun in my homeland.
After a short stint at the Caribbean Times newspaper in Brooklyn, N.Y., I was hired by the Queens Chronicle newspaper, a weekly, Jewish-owned newspaper located in Woodhaven, Queens, as an assistant news editor. In that capacity, I was responsible for their Caribbean American newspaper and its content, and later, for the content of the weekly Eastern Queens edition of the Queens Chronicle.
Each day, I would take the 7 train from my aunt’s apartment in Jackson Heights to Roosevelt Avenue and then transfer to the G train, which I would then take to the Queen’s Boulevard stop. From there, I would walk along Woodhaven Boulevard to the paper’s office in Rego Park.
I would repeat this trip in the afternoon, walking back from the office to Queen’s Boulevard and the G train. It was on one such afternoon in the spring of 1997 that I would for the first time in my life come face to face with the ugly monster of racism.
I remember it being spring because I was wearing a coat and there was a chill in the air. As I waited at the traffic light across from the newspaper’s office to get to the left side of the road and begin my brief trek to the train station, a black four runner, aka pickup truck, driven by a white man with another riding in the passenger seat, slowed and then stopped at the light as it turned red.
As I was getting ready to step into the crosswalk to begin walking across the road, the white man driving shotgun rolled down his window and yelled at me without provocation: “Black b—ch, why don’t you go back where you come from?”
I froze mid-stride but looked up. His face was red and distorted to the point where he looked ugly. Hatred burnt from his eyes. They seemed icy blue, but I can’t be sure. I only know the hate seemed to make them pop out bigger.
I felt like I was shot. Fear and anger shot through me and I stepped back on to the pavement and away from the crosswalk confused, stricken. I felt hot tears spring to my eyes then, but I blinked them back. Pride kicked in and I stared at him, head held high. We locked gazes, neither one of us looking away until the light changed, and they drove off.
Fear kicked in then and I felt myself trembling like a leaf. It felt like someone had poured cold water on me on a spring day. Thoughts of what if they had a gun and had shot me filled my head.