As our collective national debate swirls around the events in Ferguson and Cleveland, I have a simple story to tell.
A story that illustrates why race still matters and why we as a nation have difficulty advancing towards a meaningful dialogue on the subject.
Wednesday I was making arrangements with a long time friend about picking up a pie order that he and his brother had placed. During the course of the texting conversation, I received this message:
“Is it safe to bring a new Dodge Charger to your joint post Ferguson…no joke”
I couldn’t have been more offended if this person—someone I consider a close person friend of mine—had walked up to me and called me a nigger to my face. His question literally took my breath away.
“I’m gonna pretend you didn’t ask me that offensive question.”
“Yah, I get that it might be offensive, but realistic. Sadly.”
What my friend or perhaps the person who had rented the car failed to consider is that the south side of Chicago is a long way from Ferguson.
He and/or she also failed to consider that there had been zero reports of Ferguson related violence following the Grand Jury decision on Monday. Furthermore the only protests that day were miles away from Woodlawn in the center of Chicago’s business district.
I wonder if my friend and his companion were concerned that the presence of a Dodge Charger would incite the savages (savages = the blacks, btw) to set upon them or if the presence of a Dodge Charger with white people would have done the trick?
But you know what offended me and hurt my feelings the most?
It wasn’t the fact that both of them were perpetrating the tired stereotype of white people never being safe around large groups of black people, but that my judgment was questioned.
As if I’d have them come to my home knowing that those mythical roving bands of unruly Negroes would harm their property and their person.
I find it sad that they don’t believe in the integrity of my immediate neighborhood; but that they honestly think that I would suggest they come to a place where they could potentially get hurt? That just took the cake.
Now I don’t have common sense?
I take that as a giant middle finger to our “friendship.”
You see ladies and gentlemen, what I just provided to you was a real life honest to God racial microaggression. They happen everyday under the guise of “concern,” “jokes” or other inappropriate behavior.
Or as my late grandmother would say, “The way “they” always let you know that you’re black. They way “they” always let you know that you’re beneath them.”
And that’s the rub. It’s challenging to not think in terms of “us” and “them” when you’ve been insulted like this.
I considered not baking anything for them at all. I considered placing an expletive laden phone call. I considered cutting off all contact—immediately. I have enough things going on in my life, I don’t need anyone to dump their racial bullshit on me.
Instead I sent this text Thanksgiving morning:
“If you are concerned with the safety of this rental vehicle you may want to collect the orders on another day.”
The cherry on the top of this unfortunate situation is that when the pies were picked up and I alluded to the initial text from the night before, I was met with sarcasm and indifference towards my feelings. I let it be known that I was not happy with the previous day’s communications only to be told “You know it wasn’t really me asking that question.”
But here’s the thing friend—you did ask that question.
If that’s how a “friend” operates, can you imagine what the rest of the big bad world is like?
Interactions like this cements ridiculous notions and discourage meaningful dialogue. Do I ask my white friends if the disheveled looking white man in the trench coat is going to shoot me in some public venue?
Do I make them guarantee my safety from roving, drunk post collegiate frat boys in Lakeview and Lincoln Park?
Do I make my white friends responsible for the actions of others that happen to look like them?
In a word, no.
I live in a city, no one’s safety is guaranteed. The shooting at Nordstroms on Friday underscored that lesson.
If you’re looking for a safety guarantee, live in a fort behind a big gate with armed guards.
Hopefully, that will also keep foolish misconceptions from spreading as well.
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