Friday, July 29, 2016

Excuse me sir, you're not racist are you?

I'll never know what it's like to experience life from a black person's point of view.

The closest I can come to understanding is through empathy and knowing how it feels to be judged by some because of appearances. Even though I'm white, I have long hair and dress more like a "rocker" that a clean cut business man.

I've been followed around stores by security who think I'm there to steal. I've had people cross the street when seeing me coming towards them. I've been told "I wouldn't want to run into you in a dark alley." I'm a bit gruff looking, have a beard as well. I can understand the feelings that come with being judged, the sting of people being prejudiced, but again, I don't know what it's like to be black. I've not had to live in fear of my life on a daily basis that cops might shoot me. Or the feeling of being monitored in a crowd or on the street because of the color of my skin.

I've walked to and from the grocery store the last six years in the Monterey area. It's a nice walk and not too far. But I do walk on a main road and almost exclusively after the sun has gone down. The biggest worry I ever have is that drivers aren't paying attention to the road. I use flash lights and reflectors, as well as red blinking lights. So I feel pretty safe most the time.

It's crossed my mind on several occasions that any time I've seen people walking to the store, it's either a couple (Male and Female) or it's a random guy here or there. A couple things I've never seen. A female walking by herself after dark and a black person. It occurred to me that of course it's not really safe for females to walk to the store after dark by themselves. I don't blame them. I'm a nice guy but I wouldn't want to stroll across me or any other guy at night if I were a female. It's scary. It's unfortunate but it's a reality.

I also recall thinking to myself a few times "You know, if I were black, or even darker skinned, I probably wouldn't be walking to the store after dark." It's true, I wouldn't. That's about the closest I can get to understanding what it might be like to be black in today's social climate. I'd be afraid. I'd be pretty sure that I'd be stopped by a cop patrolling the area -- simply because of the color of my skin. How scary, and unfortunate.

Now don't get me wrong. Over the years I've been stopped on the street by cops. I've even been asked if I was carrying a weapon. I don't carry a gun, so the answer is always "no". I've been asked why I'm out, what I'm doing. Even once when I was having hip problems walking back from the store (I have sciatica that flares up from time to time) an officer asked me if I was OK. All in all I've probably been "questioned" by four different officers. In that time I've never felt like my life was in danger. Not once did a cop ask me for my ID, or have me put my hands on the police car or try to subdue me in any way. I'm well aware that is my white privilege.

On a recent trip to the grocery store I had just finished checking out. I take a backpack and reusable bags to put my groceries in for the journey back home. I reorganize my purchases outside of the store. It's not uncommon for homeless people to ask me for a smoke, or money. I don't smoke and I don't carry cash.

This last time it was a bit different. A young black man, maybe in his early 20's approached me. I had my headphones in so I didn't hear him initially. He was wearing a Green Bay Packers hat and a big jacket. It was about 60 degrees out with some fog rolling in off of the ocean. He unzipped his jacket to show me a partially finished San Francisco Giants logo tattoo on his right arm. He appeared to be either drunk or high or both, and he smelled like he just stepped out of a Cheech and Chong movie.

I took out one of my ear buds and asked him to repeat himself because I couldn't hear him. He said "Excuse me sir, you're not racist are you?" I replied "No, I'm not." He responded "Well someone just called me a nigger so I wanted to make sure you weren't racist too." I said "That sucks. Sorry to hear that - that wasn't very nice."

He then continued "So, if you're not racist, can you give me some money? I'm trying to get to the bus station so I can get back home to Santa Cruz." I told him that I don't carry cash and he stated "not even any change?" Again I said no, I don't. I'd mentioned that I just came to get groceries and don't use cash. He responded "Well, they do have an ATM." I just repeated myself "I just came to get groceries. Sorry." He said "God Bless" and walked away.

A few minutes later I saw him follow a white girl to her car and heard him ask her the same thing "Excuse me miss, you're not racist are you?" I didn't stick around to see how it all went down. I grabbed my stuff and headed home.

I wasn't scared of him. I figured he was homeless or was trying to score some weed. I've heard similar lines from white homeless men. Not asking me if I'm racist of course, but asking me if I had money because they were trying to get to the bus station etc.

Maybe the black kid was trying to use the line to try and prey off of white guilt. The thing is, I don't have any guilt for who I am. I didn't choose to be white. I understand that there are privileges that come with being white. I understand there are white racists out there. I understand that police and other establishments are unfair to people of color. Personally I see people as humans. I also try to understand the struggles of others the best I can. White people. Dark people. Black Lives Matter (because they do). Old people. Handicap people. Gender inequality. All of it.

In today's social climate it's obvious that we haven't come as far as we'd hoped with race relations. Some day I hope we will. We need to try to start attempting to understand where others are coming from. We will never be able to understand from direct experience, but we can try to empathize and understand what it might be like from another persons perspective.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post. I personally think you are very good at empathizing with people of color, women, and pretty much anyone else that isn't like you for whatever reason.