Presence and Resistance

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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.