Who Knew I Was So Terrifying

Just in time for Black History Month, I recount one of my favorite microaggressions

Tracey Ford
Published in
4 min readFeb 18, 2021


Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

There are so many microaggressions and racist experiences in the life of a Black person that it’s hard to choose just one. And while I’ve never been called the N-word (to my face), one thing that has always felt akin to the slur is that moment when your very existence in a space shifts the behavior or vibe of people (White people) around you. There are the many times I showed up for job interviews and was left sitting in the lobby while confused White people peeked their heads out to search for who they assumed would be “Tracey Ford.” There’s the moment you realize you’re being followed around a store in the least subtle way, or when you’re seated so far back in a restaurant that you’re convinced you’re being taken to the kitchen to cook your own meal. There’s the first time you’re confronted with the reality that you’re not going to get the same service as White or White-passing people doing the exact same thing. But, one of my personal faves, an experience that lives in my head rent-free and, unfortunately, encountered many times later, is having a White woman clutch her purse and (metaphorically) jump out of her own skin when sharing space with me.

I am apparently terrifying. A real menace to society — all 5 feet and 1 mighty inch of me. My first time witnessing this, unfortunately, occurred during my formative years which is likely why it still lives with me. My mom, born and raised in New York — in what is now for gentrification purposes zoned as the Upper East Side but was once upon a time considered a part of Spanish Harlem — navigated the city well and would often grab me and her purse and hop in the car on weekends to drive from the suburbs of Queens to run errands aka shop in the city.

On this particular day, after circling the east side for parking, my mom, in her fashionable big red-framed glasses and her preppiest ‘fit was a bit turned around. We were headed to Bloomingdale’s. We stopped on Lexington Avenue not too far from 59th and my mom paused, looked at a woman walking toward us on the sidewalk, and said “Miss, do you know which way is north?” Before she could get out the first bit of her question the woman jumped back into people walking by. My mom, normally calm…