KENDI: On Keyon Harrold Jr. and the Presumption of Sticky-Fingered Black Kids

I’ve never stolen anything in my life, well...not really.

I’ve stolen my older sister’s clothes and makeup. I’ve stolen cookies fresh off the pan even though my mom told me to wait until they cooled. I’ve stolen pieces of gum from my dad’s nightstand because he always has that orange tropical flavor I like so much.

But when it comes to the type of stealing that comes with actual consequences , I’ve been lucky enough never to have needed to..

In those family sitcoms like “Full House,” there’s always an episode where the teenage main character gets caught up with the wrong crowd, shoplifts, gets caught and has to wait with mall security for their stern yet understanding parent to come pick them up. It’s all resolved in that neat 22-minute television script formula. No big deal.

Of course, that teenage main character is always white.

When I was 13-years-old, the cashier at the beauty supply store on my block accused me of stealing.

Despite being in an almost all-Black neighborhood in Brooklyn, selling products catered to Black people, the store owners and everyone who worked there was Asian. The man who accused me of stealing was Asian.

As I brought my handful of items to the checkout counter, he said, “Where’s the lip gloss?”

I looked at him confused. What lip gloss? I didn’t get any lipgloss. So that’s what I told him.

“Yes, you did. You put it in your pocket. I saw you.”

I laughed. He had to be kidding, right? This had to be a strange, poorly delivered joke.

“Haha. No, I didn’t,” was all I could think to respond with.

“Yes, you did.”

Oh shit. He’s serious.

“No, I didn’t.”

I turned out my pockets. There was nothing. He shrugged.

“Oh. Nevermind.”

I paid for my stuff and left.

I thought the whole thing was kinda funny. My parents did not. When I got home and recounted my day, I mentioned what happened. My mom was instantly outraged and demanded we go back to the store to confront them. My dad, forever the level headed one, agreed with her. I struggled to understand why it made them so upset until my mom explained.

She told me what I already knew in theory but hadn’t yet seen applied to me. She explained that the world is different for you when you’re Black. The consequences for things are different, often harsher, graver. To be accused of stealing when you’re young and Black may as well is to may as well be a thief.

“They could have called the police,” my dad said.

Meaning, the police could have killed me. They could have arrested or beat me for the notion of a stolen tube of lipgloss. They’ve done far worse for far less.

My life is not “Full House.” I am not white. The consequences are different. That’s what I kept thinking when I saw the story of 14-year-old Keyon Harold Jr., who was falsely accused by a white presenting woman of stealing her iPhone.

“This is my phone,” Keyon repeats in the now viral video.

The woman, who has been identified as Miya Ponsetto, demanded the 14-year-old to take the phone case off, his case, and give it to her. She blocked the doorway so he could not leave. When he brushed past her, she attacked him.

Her phone was returned to her moments after the incident. She’d left it in a taxi.

Every person of color I know has a story of the time they were accused by a non-POC of stealing. It’s almost like some strange right of passage in America, like being called a racial slur for the first time or having a teacher make a casually racist comment. It happens to us all at some point.

But the time of normalizing incidents like these is long gone.

No form of racism is harmless. Therefore no form of racism should go without consequence.

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