The Gaze: What the Loss of Innocence Looks Like

One of the primary reasons that I hate the voluminous amounts of ‘technology’ that I am forced to interact with is that it is quite simply unreliable. I am certain that you agree that when the alluded to technology is broken, there really is not a quick way of fixing it. Just yesterday my entire day was disrupted by a computer glitch that forced me to leave the comforts of my home as grades were due at a local college that I teach on a part-time basis at. As look would have it, on my way to manually turn in grades, I was pulled over by the police.

Now I want you to understand that this is not a story regarding ‘police brutality’ or some type of violence or disrespect that I received at the hands of this or any other officer. I will admit to something that is certainly unfashionable in today’s contemptuous climate between Black men and white officers, “I was in the wrong.” The inspection sticker for my car was expired. However, I do still think that the stopping of a law-abiding citizen such as myself for such a mundane reason is unjust, yet, I digress. However, the routine traffic stop merely frames this post, it is actually about something that I term “the gaze.”

The definition of gaze is as follows: To look steadily, intently, and with fixed attention.

Anyone who has ever been under the gaze of another can definitively tell you that a gaze isblack boys 3 markedly different from a look or stare. As the aforementioned definition highlights, an integral aspect of a gaze is the fixation that one puts toward another. While I sat in my car, I became aware that I was under the gaze of a complete stranger. The “gazer” was a young African-American male child approximately 7 or 8 years old who doggedly refused to break his gaze from my plight.

It was purely happenstance that when the officer pulled me over, I was alongside a private elementary school in a relatively wealthy part of town, only a few blocks away from Houston’s vaunted cathedral of materialistic consumption and idolatry, The Galleria. The elementary school on my right was apparently letting black boystheir younger children out for recess, these kids looked no older than third-grade. All of them, except one, the one with the gaze, were white. I initially thought it humorous to see all of these children emerge wearing the traditional flags that denote a game of flag football, and then I saw him; a lone African-American child who had emerged with all of the exuberance that his counterparts had for recess, abruptly stop in the midst of his peers and begin gazing at me. During the twenty-minutes that I sat in my vehicle waiting for the officer to complete this relatively routine stop, the gaze never ceased. Not even the vibrant game of flag football occurring around him caused the gaze to stop.

Now I would love to be able to state that I definitively knew from whence this particular gaze emerged, however, that is impossible for me to know. However, it did make my mind run regarding its genesis. Did I resemble a family member? Was he frightened by the entire scene and anticipating that he would see another African-American male brutalized or even killed by a white officer? Had he been instructed by a parent to watch out for other African-Americans when he witnessed the police detaining them? Who knows? Only the possessor of the gaze can answer that question. However, I must admit that the gaze provided as much comfort to me at that particular moment as when I travel to lecture, debate, or participate in some academic exercise at a foreign campus and have my slight ‘what’s up?’ head nod returned by anonymous African-Americans.

After reflecting on this event, I realize that we all possess the gaze. However, it is only used for things that we deem truly black boys 1important. For African-American men and women, this gaze is more frequently being used to monitor those, most notably the police, that we feel are a danger to those we care about.

Although I would like to trace the genesis of my gaze to a specific event or instruction from my father, the truth of the matter is that the gaze, particularly when it is used to monitor external threats, is not bestowed upon anyone, rather it flows from years of personal experience and observation of others. One thing is certain; I know that neither I, nor my peers, possessed the gaze prior to our high school years. We were incubated within a Black community that protected our childhood from hostile external forces ‘by any means necessary.’ Apparently, those days are long gone as African-American elementary school age children now possess the gaze. And for that reason, each of us should be ashamed as the appearance of the gaze only occurs after childhood expires.

James Thomas Jones


©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016

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