Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Follow up to Rite Aid, Racism post

My post Rite Aid, Racism and Where We Go From Here kicked up a lot of dust with people, both on my Facebook page, and on other people's pages.
I was glad to hear each person's point of view, even though we might not completely agree. We each perceive our lives through a unique lens, based on our own past experiences. For me, I'll admit right now that for a long time I didn't see how deep racism was. I thought we, as humans, were evolving beyond the lizard brain that makes us fear "the other." Drump's America has shown me just how naive that was. Growing up, my stepdad was the only white guy in Little Richard's band. Richard used to introduce me to the audience as his daughter and when everyone laughed, I didn't get the joke. I grew up in a Lala-land world where race was a non-issue and to tell you the truth, I’m still shocked that my perceptions of the world aren’t shared. That’s my sin, I guess. Not white privilege, but the privilege of growing up in a multi-racial, harmonious world. 
To differentiate between people based on the color of their skin is ludicrous. To call yourself a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew, and to believe that you are better than anyone else, when you also believe that God created all people, is insane. 
Some people were angry that I didn't automatically side with the women in the story. I am a feminist. I have been sexually assaulted, sexually harassed at the workplace, attacked by a friend's older brother at a sleepover when I was thirteen, having to run home in my nightgown in the middle of the night. Believe me, I am highly sensitive to the issue, and have fought for and marched for women's rights. What I saw at Rite Aid was not an issue of a woman being harassed. I saw two young people, highly emotional, both in the wrong, but ultimately, I saw the young black man being put into a threatening situation, and in today's climate, that is dangerous. 
I'm glad we had a real conversation about this on Facebook. I absorbed what each of you had to say, even when your views were different than mine. I don't think there was one right answer. Sexism is real. Racism is real. And denying that is hurting us. Until we come to terms with truth in this country, we can't make anything better. 
Thanks for reading.

Rite Aid, Racism and Where We Go From Here

Friday night, standing in line at Rite Aid, Evan and I found ourselves in the middle of a drama that epitomized the heightened racial tension in this country.
Two young black men came into Rite Aid, and passed by two white girls, a blonde and a brunette. The men were handsome, muscular, wearing tank tops and shorts. They looked like they had just come from the gym. The girls were wearing jeans and tank tops. All four looked to be in their twenties. The younger guy said something to the brunette. Her response to him was to loudly say “Fuck off.” Then she turned and stormed away.
“Fuck you, too!” he fired back.
And with that, all hell broke loose.The blonde girl started screaming and cursing at the man. “Don’t you fucking talk to her like that you motherfucker! Don’t you ever talk to her!”
“All I said to her is that she looked pretty!” he shouted back.
“I don't care! You don’t say ANYTHING to her. My sister is sixteen years old! You don’t talk to her!”
“I didn’t know she was sixteen! How am I supposed to know that?” he shouted back.
(She didn’t look sixteen, by the way. She looked 25, and they didn’t look like sisters.)
“You don’t talk to her, motherfucker!” she screamed.
“Shut up, bitch,” he said, and it went ballistic from there. (As a feminist, I HATED that he said that.) They both were at fault, but if there were a contest for filthiest mouth, the blonde girl would have won. She was a constant stream of screaming expletives. Everyone in line stood there, most of them looking down or away. 

The blonde girl shouted at the manager, “Call the police! Get this guy out of the store!”
Someone said they had called the police. At that, the guy’s friend got on his cell phone and started explaining the whole situation to someone. Maybe he was calling an attorney - I don’t know.
The store manager came over to the younger guy and quietly asked him to tone it down. He said he didn’t want any trouble in the store. The young guy talked to the manager in hushed tones. They even shook hands. The manager said nothing to the blonde girl, and did not ask her to tone it down, even though she was the one who provoked the whole screaming match. 
After a moment or two she started up again, warning him, her finger pointed at his face, that he better not EVER talk to her sister again. He screamed back. It escalated again, and the black guy shook his head and said something about “white people.”
Finally, I shouted above them, “Please! Everyone calm down! Both of you! There’s a child here.”
At that, the young man said, “I’m sorry ma’am,” and to Evan, “I didn't see you there, little man.”
The blonde girl ignored me, did not stop screaming and did not tone down her language in front of my son. We paid for our merchandise and hightailed it out of the store. Evan was pulling me by the arm. He was scared. 
In the car as we were pulling out of our parking space, Evan asked me, “Was that man a thug?”
My hair stood on end. “Evan, where did you hear that term?”
“In videos and movies. There are these guys that are really mean and tough looking and they always talk about thug life.”
“Have you ever thought that about any of our black friends?”
“No, of course not,” he said, "but that guy seemed mean."
Just then, the two men were walking out of the store. The young man’s friend was still talking on the phone to someone. He came out first. I stopped my car, rolled my window down and said, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
He lowered his cell phone, walked over to my car and bent down, to see me eye to eye.
“Listen,” I said, “I saw what went down in there. I mean, I get it. I know why your friend was angry.”
“He didn’t mean anything by it, he was just upset. I’m sorry your son was scared…”
“It’s okay. I know racial tensions are running high in this country right now, and everyone is emotional. But I heard what your friend said about white people, and I just want you to know…all white people aren’t assholes, okay?” I extended my hand to him.
He looked down and shook his head, then he took my hand. “I know that,” he said. “I deliver Nestle water out in Malibu every day. I know that.” He squeezed my hand. Just then his friend walked up to us. He saw us talking, our hands clenched in a handshake. Over his friend’s shoulder, he shouted to Evan in the back seat, “Hey little buddy. I didn’t mean anything against you, okay? It’s all good, little man. You’re the man!”
Evan nodded and waved back. We all shook hands, told each other to have a good day, and although I am not in any way religious, I found myself saying “God bless you” to them as they got in their car, because maybe that’s all I know to say at this point. 
As we drove away I asked Evan if he thought those guys were mean and scary.
“No,” he said. “They seemed really nice.”
Then, as we drove home, I had a long talk with him about why that man at Rite Aid might have seemed mean. In my opinion, it’s because anger masks pain, and young black men are feeling a lot of pain right now. I told him that, in my opinion, if it had been a young white guy who had hit on that girl, she would have possibly ignored him and gone on with her shopping. Or maybe even flirted back. I highly doubt she would have told him to fuck off. I highly doubt, if he had been a young white guy, that her sister would have been screaming at the manager to throw the guy out of the store, and call the police. I told him how many young black men have been wrongfully incarcerated. I told him the story of Jordan Davis, and Tamir Rice and Philando Castille. He was shocked. “How can people do that? How can they just shoot someone like that? That’s against the law!”
“Yeah, it is against the law. But too often, people aren’t being prosecuted for murdering young black men. And that hurts. And that makes people angry, and defensive.”
“I understand,” Evan said. 
So here we are. I have no simple wrap-up to this story. I have no happy ending/lessons learned.
This is what we are in the middle of, and it sucks. I can only think of the words my husband once said to me, when we were in personal crisis and fighting each other. He said, “In times of trouble, we have to turn toward each other, not against each other. Otherwise, we’re not going to make it.” So maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s the only solution we have to work this out; each other.
And because I don’t know what else to do or say, I can only say this…God bless us.

*** this was a post on Facebook that was shared widely and garnered hundreds of strong emotions and comments. I realize that not everyone will see this story in the same way that I interpreted it. I can only say that this was my experience, and this was the way I perceived the situation, based on the things said, and the level of vitriol. See my follow up post for further clarification: https://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/2017/07/my-post-rite-aid-racism-and-where-we-go.html