The other day I was in my neighborhood grocery store when I encountered a tall, middle-aged African-American man stocking shelves. He had a cart full of product and part of it blocked my way. I looked at him, smiling, saying, “Excuse me.” He turned and gazed at me, his eyes hard, face tight and unsmiling. And that’s when I saw it.
I saw the resentment. I saw myself through his eyes, another privileged white woman in her white world. I thought of the scenes on television last light showing yet more racial tension. No doubt he saw it too.
Now I know I’m not the Amazing Kreskin. For all I know this man was ruminating over the fight he had with his wife or maybe his back hurt or his car’s in the shop. Maybe I’m projecting my own angst and paranoia over the racial divide growing wider with each incident of brutality, with each counter-reaction, with each protest.
But maybe I wasn’t wrong. Maybe he really felt that way. And if that’s the case, there are three things I wish I could’ve said to him.
First, I wanted to tell him, like many, I want him to succeed. I cheered when we voted for our first African American President, hoping that this was a way out of the horrors and injustices of our past. Maybe this would be the salve to slavery, murderous Jim Crow laws, and children raised in ghettos.
I wanted to believe when Obama came to power we were turning a corner. If a person of color could reach the highest office in the land, then others would be uplifted as well.
Second, I wanted to tell him I’m not the enemy. Like many Caucasians – including, I believe, the majority of white police officers – I’m horrified by this growing hatred. I believe most people are good and prefer peace above violence.
The true enemies are ignorance and fear. These emotions abound on both sides. Although I have to admit, when I learn of another unarmed African American male killed by cops, it leaves me frightened. Where does this end?
Third, I wanted to tell him what I hope will continue — that white people, along with African Americans. will protest this violence, wherever it comes from. I hope these events start to transcend skin color and become an opportunity for growth and change on all sides, for how we solve problems. I’d like to see people of all ethnicities join in these discussions because what affects one, affects all. Violence makes the world dangerous for everyone.
The way that African-American man looked at me made me feel like a struggle had begun and I’d become his foe, deserving or not.
I wanted to say my heart aches when I see the sad, scary streets of inner cities, streets I’ll never walk down, streets I never had to raise my children on. I wanted to tell him I long to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
I wanted to tell him I desire change as much as he does, that I want the world to be better for both of us.
There was so much to say. Instead, like many, I stayed silent. I went past him as he stocked shelves, his back hunched and stiff. I pushed my cart along and continued shopping.
But I wanted to say so much more.
What are your thoughts on the current racial tension? Comments are always welcome and thank you for reading. If you like, please share. Thank you.