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Not just Starbucks: Involuntary homebody

Adrian Fields

Adrian Fields on his roof deck (Darryl C. Murphy for WHYY)

The arrest of two black men waiting for a business partner in a Center City Starbucks back in April put a high-profile spotlight on the discrimination people of color experience every day. Social media hashtags — #nappingwhileblack #movingwhileblack #diningwhileblack #golfingwhileblack #BBQingwhileblack — and almost daily headlines emerged after a slew of incidents in which the police were called or involved when African-Americans were doing ordinary things.

This week, WHYY is bringing you personal accounts of everyday discrimination that rarely make the headlines.

Adrian Fields doesn’t like to go out. The 35-year-old resident of Philadelphia’s Brewerytown neighborhood said when he’s not at his job, he usually stays in the house working on his e-commerce business, playing video games, or perfecting his cooking skills.

Fields attributes his affinity for being a homebody to a fear of police. It all started with an incident that happened about 10 years ago when he lived in Norristown.

While walking home from his first day at a new job, Fields was stopped by police because he matched a description of a robbery suspect who, like Fields at the time, was “black with braids.” One officer pulled a gun on Fields after he reached for his identification, even though the officer had requested his ID.

When the officers realized they had the wrong guy, one cop, a black man, who arrived in the middle of the incident, apologized to him and said, “It’s the wrong day to be black in this neighborhood.”

The situation was a turning point for Fields. He said he began spending more time indoors, either inviting friends over or going to their houses. He no longer frequented bars or went for late-night walks. Suddenly, the world wasn’t as familiar to him as before.

“To this day,” said Fields, “I will frantically freak out if a cop gets behind me [while driving]. I don’t even like walking to the corner store.”

Fields said he tries to avoid situations where race may be an issue. Since his wife, Nicole, 30, is white, he finds it nearly impossible to steer clear of them. The two are expecting their first child later this year

She said whenever the two go out together, they try “not be the spotlight,” especially in places where white people are the majority. Fields said it is in these spaces that he feels vulnerable and that his gentle disposition will be overshadowed by the perception that he’s a threat because he’s a black man.

“If incidents jump off and I feel as though there is race relations involved,” he said. “I know I am going to be the bad guy.”

Fields said he never sought professional help for the fears that keep him mostly indoors, but the upcoming birth of his first child in August is motivation for him to face them. He said he wants to set a better example for his daughter and doesn’t want her to take on his worries.

“My daughter can’t grow up with this kind of fear,” he said. “And she’s going to be black. Nobody should have to live like that. I work way too hard for her to have to live like that.”

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