3 Things I Wished I’d Told That African American Man

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.




    • Laurie Stone

      Sylvie, I think many of us feel that way these days — full of compassion, but finding it hard to reach out and speak our truth.

  1. Laurie, it’s great that you shared your inner thoughts. I think it’s exactly how many, many of us feel. I believe these sort of small opportunities we face every day, like you did, really just deserves a smile or simple greeting. Like a hello or have a nice day can go a long way. We just have to make the effort and get past the fear.

  2. I wish more people would LISTEN and talk. Sure, it sounds all touchy feely but there is so much anger and hurt in our world that we are all angry and need to stay somewhere.
    That said, I think it makes a good start that you are even thinking of ways to start a conversation.

    • Laurie Stone

      Rachee, I can’t think of any other way to heal this world, except with our brains and hearts. We’ve used our fists for so long and its not working. It never does. We must try other ways.

  3. I think most of us, like you say, want to be part of the solution rather than the problem. I also agree that ignorance and fear are our enemies, not each other. This should be such an easy distance to cross, but so often it’s not. We all have so much to say to each other, so many sincere thoughts we want the other to know, but we keep silent largely for fear of being misunderstood. At least, I often do. I am very much a minority in my neighborhood, but I often invite everyone on my street over for coffee. It is my way of trying to earn the right to start the conversations that will help to bridge that awful gap. And that is where I have to start, the family next door. Thank you for this thoughtful article, Laurie.

    • Laurie Stone

      Wendy, So true that we must begin with ourselves. If everyone did that, we’d have a much better world. I would love a more diversified environment. I think thats wonderful.

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