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Life / Society

The Palpable Tension of Race Between Us

The Palpable Tension of Race Between Us

It’s a rainy day in San Francisco.

The kind of rainy day when grey clouds blanket the world and her emotions. Umbrellas, rain jackets, and storefront awnings hide faces. The fog tangibly separates us. And we are connected only by our collective reflections on our individuality.

I step out of the SF Museum of Modern Art, where I hadn’t made it past the top floor and it’s dramatic, diverse depictions of “our charged political, social and environmental climate”—fittingly titled ‘Nothing Stable Under Heaven’.

I make my way to Market Street, walking on the sidewalk sheltered by construction scaffolding. Our crowd condenses together, yet we are alone, concealed by our coats and umbrellas.

Behind me, I hear male voices engaged in their own conversations.

One of them starts whooping, and with it a discomfort settles on our small crowd. I resist my urge to turn to look at the attention-seeking comedian and instead my thoughts throw eyerolls his way.

As we emerge from under the scaffolding his umbrella collides with mine.

I try to hide my annoyance and the fear that inevitably starts to creep in—the #metoo movement has real cause. And I look past my rain jacket, past my umbrella and I see two men, one black—the one that bumped into me— and one white—holding a dark-skinned child that I assume belongs to the black male.

We exchange the polite “sorry”, “excuse me”, “no worries”. I smile, hoping to convey that I am not uncomfortable with him or the color of his skin, hoping to erase years of prejudice and discrimination of people that look like me. He laughs.

His friend next to him speaks up, “Hey dude, watch out. A black man—you’re her worst fear!”

Shocked at his boldness, yet determined to be cool, I look the black man in the eyes. “I’m terrified”, I state with as much sarcasm as I can muster.

I see a tangible wall fall between us as he smiles with his eyes, responding, “Ah I like this gal, she’s got spunk”.

He doesn’t seem like someone that would whoop wildly for attention.

But his friend isn’t satisfied, “At least this one tells the truth! Most of them stay quiet with their head held high and then vote for Trump and his hate. At least this one speaks truth.”

I look at the black man, not knowing what else to say. Nothing seems like enough.

We keep walking, and at the next intersection they go their way and I go mine.

I am lost in reflecting, trying to remember the details. What was he wearing? How old was his son? What color were his eyes? I realize that I didn’t notice any of it. All I could see was the palpable tension of race between us.

And in reflecting I realize. I haven’t told the whole story. I haven’t even been willing to tell the story properly to myself.

I make my way to Market Street, walking on the sidewalk sheltered by construction scaffolding. Our crowd condenses together, yet we are alone, concealed by our coats and umbrellas.

 Behind me, I hear male voices engaged in their own conversations.

 I move my purse from behind my back to in front of my body, protecting my phone, my wallet, my sense of security.

 One of them starts whooping…

 Why did I move my purse?

Did I hear in the male voice behind me that he was black? Did I assume that I was in danger? Did I do all of this subconsciously? And is that why he started whooping? Was he just playing the role I had already given him?

Or was I just adjusting my purse.

I don’t know…

I do know that I agreed with Hillary Clinton when she declared that implicit bias is a problem for everyone.

I know that my great-great grandfather owned slaves in the south, and despite whatever bullshit that family may tell me that he was “nice” to his slaves, there is nothing nice about claiming another human being as your property.

I know that I recently heard a white man that I respect refer to the African slaves as “immigrating” to the United States, as if it was their choice to be ripped from their families, to be robbed of their language and culture, and to be put into chains, to work and to be tortured and to die in a foreign land.

I know that all lives matter, but for so long that has meant that white lives matter. So no, this isn’t my time to matter. This is the time—the much overdue time—to finally identify that black lives matter.

I know that I am Gabe Mitchell—the fictional white boyfriend in Netflix’s Dear White People—incessantly asking “am I racist?”, soaking in the stories of people of color, begging my non-white friends to educate me, while desperately hoping that I don’t make them feel used and otherized.

And I also know that I am the one that moved my purse.

This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on racism from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.

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Molly tends to get caught up in the moment. Some of her favorite moments involve snuggling with her 3-legged cat, talking about the deep things with real people (as opposed to fake people), reading young adult fiction and drinking coffee that tastes like earth.

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