On a well-traveled street in a progressive Peninsula community, Dontae Rayford was exposed to some everyday racial animus from a total stranger intended to remind him he will always be regarded as an outsider.

While aimlessly scrolling on my phone, I suddenly heard someone yell:

“Get out of my neighborhood!”

I looked up and found myself met by an elderly woman making a shooing motion in my direction as she blazed through the intersection.

“Wow,” I thought. “There’s no way that just happened.”

You see, upon accepting a role as head of business development for a Shanghai-based camera company looking to sprout roots in North America, I was excited about returning to my old stomping grounds. I attended Stanford and feel a sense of nostalgia each time I’m there.

Oh, and by the way, I should probably mention that I’m a 32-year old black male. Prior to this incident I’d not given an ounce of thought to how my race might influence my latest experience with Palo Alto. I mean, the Bay Area is a liberal bastion after all. Why would I have any need to worry?

But, as fate would have it, I did need to worry about being perceived as “other” in the city that served as my first home away from home when I enrolled at Stanford a bit over 10 years ago.

This encounter filled me with anger and disappointment. Friends responded with various statements of disbelief. It hurt, but I knew it was an important anecdote to share.

With recent events in Charlottesville, Boston and Berkeley reigniting America’s unresolved discussion on race, my experience served as a reminder of how powerful presence and resistance can be in the face of ignorance. Not just in Palo Alto, but everywhere. In the classroom, at the rallies, in the workplace, at the restaurants and yes, even back on that residential street I travel down at the end of each workday. I’ll be more present than ever to expose, confront and drive out ignorance and intolerance demonstrated by anyone.

And if fate should see fit that I cross paths with this woman again, I’ll be ready to meet her with the biggest, most defiant smile she’ll ever see: A reminder that I am and always have been exactly where I’m meant to be.

With a Perspective, I’m Dontae Rayford.

Dontae Rayford is a business development professional living in Oakland and working in Palo Alto.

Presence and Resistance 10 October,2017Amanda Font

  • Curious

    Sounds quite unbelievable. Really unbelievable.

  • Another Mike

    Based on my experience, I’m going to suggest that the driver was irritated by yet another smartphone zombie, obsessed with the content of his screen, idly walking across the intersection at a pace that makes snails look speedy.

  • Aleks Totic

    I live in Palo Alto, and believed that racism was non-existent here. My kid’s class roster reads like the United Nations meeting.
    Unfortunately, I was wrong. A Hispanic homeowner nearby recently had “Viva Trump” stickers taped to her front door twice in a month.
    My response was to start helping her set up a surveillance cam.

    Since the election, it seems that many haters have decided that being public about their views is now ok. We have to step up.

    • Curious

      Ah. Trump’s fault.

    • Curious

      But I suppose a sticker is really not that bad…..

      Police continue to investigate after a Chicago man was viciously beaten as bystanders filmed the assault and screamed “he voted Trump,” according to local reports.

      David Wilcox, 49, said a minor car accident escalated into violence on Wednesday morning, the Chicago Tribune reported.

      According to Wilcox, a black sedan scraped the side of his car, so he pulled over and asked if the driver had insurance.

      “I stopped and parked. And I asked if they had insurance, and the next thing that I knew they were beating the s*** out of me,” Wilcox told the Tribune.

      Video of the incident shows several people gather around Wilcox and repeatedly hit and kick him, as people on the sidewalk scream “Beat his a**,” and “he voted Trump.”

      Wilcox told the Tribune that he did vote for Trump, but the crowd wouldn’t have known that and he doesn’t believe politics played a factor in the beating. He told the paper he believes the taunts came from people who were watching the beating, and said he heard someone say, “It’s one of them white boy Trump guys.”

      • Long

        @Curious: Do you mean, since somebody had done a more horrible thing, it become acceptable to do the less?

        • Curious

          No. I mean that we all suffer slights, or worse, real or perceived, and I am not sure that this perpetuation of victimhood status is a healthy thing.

    • AR in SF

      “Since the election, it seems that many haters have decided that being public about their views is now ok. We have to step up.”

      So true.

    • Another Mike

      People move to Palo Alto from everywhere, and they bring their old prejudices with them. From his name alone, for example, I cannot tell if Aleks is a friendly lovable Croatian, or an evil despicable Serb. (Just kidding. But there was mutual antipathy for centuries.)

      I was wondering how many Trump supporters were in Palo Alto (One? Two?) But to my surprise, twelve percent of Palo Alto voters voted for Trump.

  • Susan Light

    Although i live in palo alto and admire its diverstiy, nothing can take away Dontae Rayford’s experience, but i’m disappointed that KQED chose to put this on the air. as mentioned below, the negative comment may represent someone upset by or about something else or maybe someone from a different location. Maybe this elderly woman is in the early stages of dementia? my concern is that KQED is offering a perspective and the opportunity to make conclusions based on a single experience. How many times has Rayford walked the streets of Palo Alto without being subjected to this type of comment?

    • AR in SF

      You should have stopped at “nothing can take away Dontae Rayford’s experience.”

      Since DR is too busy making his way in the world, I will thank you on his behalf for whitesplaining his life experience to him. Much appreciated.

  • AR in SF

    DR: Welcome back to the Bay Area. It’s easy to ignore online trolls, like the cat on this forum, but offline trolls like the driver demand a response. It’s good to have a comeback chambered for these situations. I have found that reacting with anger is not ideal. Far more effective, if there is no threat of physical harm, is to ridicule the ridiculous. Say: “I’m going to get your daughter pregnant!” Do it in Tracy Morgan’s voice, and you’re golden. Look up clips on YouTube for pointers. Good luck.

    • Curious


  • Seen From Here

    Dontae, I applaud your conclusion of meeting her with a smile. Being assertively positive is a powerful, lasting message.

  • Trevor Green

    Thanks for sharing, Dontae. It’s tough being black and experiencing these occurrences — especially when people don’t believe you.

    I had an uncomfortable experience in Palo Alto in spring 2016. I purchased a large electronics item off of a Craigslist-like website and went to meet the seller at their apartment on my lunch break. I was dressed in my business-casual attire, and while waiting for the person in the parking lot, an older white woman came outside and stared at me for the 5 or so minutes until the seller came out. After we completed the transaction and I loaded my car and drove away, the woman walked back into her apartment.

    I hate to jump to conclusions, but it is so easy after a lifetime of being a person of color in this country. And for people telling Dontae that his experience is not believable or similar sayings to others, try listening. Everyone has unique circumstances that differ from yours, and denying their experiences is contributing to the divisiveness of our culture.

    • Another Mike

      If it’s any consolation, the burglars and package thieves in my neighborhood are all Caucasian — usually young but there was a serial burglar in his early fifties caught early this year.

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