By my outward appearance, no one could tell. I stood tall and straight as I pushed my grocery cart toward the parking lot. But inside, my stomach roiled. My chest burned. My thoughts raced: In my 73 years I haven’t come face to face with anything like this. No wonder young black people are so angry.
While I shopped, a boulder of a man stood across one of the produce aisles from me. Over the piles of potatoes and onions, I only saw his massive shoulders and the bear claws tattooed on his scalp. I’m a writer so I observed the size of those claws and how the sharp toenails pointed skyward. I
made a mental note: when I get to the car, I’ll jot that in my notebook.
Twenty minutes later, I found myself behind this same man in the checkout line. His raft of groceries and sundry items covered the conveyor belt, and the cashier was ringing up his purchases. I noticed his heavy brown shoes, laces on his left shoe trailing on the floor, his legs like silos stretching up to his large body. Then I saw the tops of his forearms, heavily tattooed with some kind of leafy pattern. He reached to place a full plastic bag in his basket. On the side of his arm, a tattoo that ran from wrist to elbow flashed. The letters, within a border that was pointed on both ends, spelled WHITE.
Now I had to see the other arm. So I put my groceries onto the belt and strolled past the man to the front aisle. After pretending to look at a poster on the wall, I turned around to see him placing another filled bag in his basket. His right arm sported a similar huge shape with a word inside. As I moved to pass him to return to my spot in line, I stole a glance at the word. PRIDE.
I was standing within inches of a person who silently, yet openly, displayed and spewed his hatred. That’s when my body reacted. Heat in my chest and a sickness in my belly. Sure, I knew people like him are out there, both individuals and hate groups. But in line beside me? Right here in my Oregon community?
No wonder young black people are so angry. Too many Americans don’t get it. They ask why blacks don’t just forget about the days of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, the killing of young black men. Too many don’t get that the words “black lives matter” are not only a call for justice but also a reminder to ourselves, in the face of everyday blatant racism: we matter.
I’m grateful for this jolting experience. As a black woman whose brushes with overt racism have been few, I’ve been educated about racism’s prevalence and its effects at the visceral level. It put me in tune with how many people of color must feel -- and deal with these attitudes -- on a too-regular basis.
There is little we can do to alter the hard-core, ingrained prejudiced beliefs and behaviors that exist in some members of our society.
But all of us can work to create change in the system. We can make a conscious effort to raise our children in a culture of “one nation” that connects rather than divides. A country and culture that believes it and means it when we recite “with liberty and justice for all.”
Then maybe one day, no one will be so angry.
~ xoA ~