After paying for my groceries at the store yesterday, I headed for the exit. Naturally. As I made my way to the exit, there was an elderly black man walking in front of me. Off to the left, there was a middle-aged white man standing at the end of a check-out lane while the cashier rang up his groceries. I noticed the white man noticing the black man, except he wasn’t really noticing the black man as much as he was gaping at him, contempt filling his ugly face (which was only ugly to me because of the sheer disgust he had for another man simply because he was black).
Aside: I’m assuming these two didn’t know each other. When I go to the store I rarely run into someone I know, whether I like that person or not. So I feel safe with this assumption. I’m also assuming something else didn’t happen between them at the store beforehand (like the black man cutting off the white man in the parking lot or something). It simply felt like the disgust was due to skin color.
The black man sauntered by with nary a glance at the man who was regarding him with open contempt. I don’t know whether he simply didn’t notice the scornful look or that he’s just used to it. The latter is truly disturbing.
Racism sometimes still amazes me, and not at all in a good way. I mean, here was a white man, just staring at a black man with no attempt to hide the hatred on his face. The other man’s crime, so far as I could tell, was being black. He wasn’t making a scene or behaving unusually. He was doing nothing to provoke the vile look of hostility he was receiving. The man had quietly paid for his merchandise, and was calmly exiting the store.
It’s just another reminder to me that, even as far as we’ve come in race relations, we still have a long way to go.
I just don’t understand how you can you hate someone you don’t even know. How can you hate someone when you don’t know their name? Their politics? Their religion? Their beliefs? Their history? Their sense of humor? Their likes? Their dislikes? How can you completely judge someone based on appearance alone? Hell, not even appearance, but skin color. What did the color of this black man’s skin say to the white man? What evil things had he been taught about black people?
I consider myself lucky to have been raised in a home in which hatred was not taught. There was some intolerance, sure, but no hatred. I grew up idolizing black athletes such as Eric Davis and Isiah Thomas. No one ever told me I should hate them because they aren’t white, and for that I am extremely grateful.
It wasn’t until my senior year in a Louisville high school that I encountered racism. I worked at a pizza joint after school, busing tables and washing dishes. I often stayed until midnight or later to help close the place up (which was quite illegal), but always got a ride home from the closing manager as a way of thanking me for staying (and not reporting them for labor violations).
One particular night the store manager closed (which was a rarity) and he gave me a ride home. The first thing I noticed on his car were the Dixie flags. Some people see this as an expression of state’s rights, but I’m not one of those people. I, however, decided not to comment on it.
After we were in the car and buckled in, he pulled a night stick out from under the driver’s seat. It was dark and I didn’t immediately recognize what it was, so naturally I inquired.
“That’s my nigger beater,” he replied, a twisted grin on his face.
I sat there in shock for a moment. That word was not foreign to me. After all, I listened to hip hop exclusively at the time. That was, however, the first time I had heard that word outside the lyrics of a rap song. It was also the first time I had heard it used in a derogatory context. That man was the first person I had ever encountered who openly made a racist comment in front of me. If I had ever met a racist before then I was not aware of it.
I was having no part of his opinion. I politely (he was my boss, after all) let him know I didn’t appreciate his comment. He, in turn, did not appreciate my retort. Our discussion continued, much of it I can’t recall, but at some point he asked me point-blank, “So are you telling me you would date a black woman?”
I’m unsure why he thought that question was relevant to anything we were discussing, but I answered him anyhow. “Yes, I would.”
“I have just lost all respect for you,” he announced, like that somehow would ruin my day. I can assure you, sir, having the respect of an ignorant racist is NOT on my bucket list.
“Yeah, well, I have just lost all respect for YOU!” I retorted. And I had. I have never had tolerance for any sort of bigotry, even when I was 17 years old. Luckily, the ride home was short and that was the conclusion of our conversation. Not long afterward, I quit that job with no notice.
Race, as much as many conservative white folks claim otherwise, is still a divisive issue in our society. If you have any doubt about that then I suggest you Google Donald Sterling, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Riley Cooper, or, as of yesterday, Bruce Levinson.
I still cannot fathom how one can form an opinion on another person based on appearance alone. It truly boggles my mind. In fact, it infuriates me. I was incensed by the white man gawking at the black man yesterday with unhidden scorn on his face. I was appalled by the blatant racist statements of my former boss. I am further disgusted by the attempts of Fox News and their ilk claiming that race was not an issue in Ferguson. I am tired of hatred, and the disingenuous excuses for it. It’s all bullshit.
When I was a wee lad, I would often scoff when food I had never tried before ended up on my plate. I would refuse to eat it and claim I didn’t like it. “Have you tried it?” was the standard response of whichever parent happened to be present at the time.
“Well, no,” would always be my sheepish response. Always.
“Well, then how do you know you don’t like it?” they would ask. How indeed?
I never had an answer for them.
Perhaps this isn’t an apt analogy, but it’s the one I’m running with. How do you know, racists, whether or not someone is a decent human being if you don’t take the time to get to know them?