So I was at the Valley Street Stop and Shop in Manchester; the one that in the phone book is on Lincoln Street. Anyway, I’m there shopping with my little carpenter friend and suddenly, as I hunted around I heard African voices speaking, not uncommon in Manchester. Always curious about new sounds and languages I look up and see a mom and her two kids shopping. Nothing new, so I return my gaze and concentration to answer the burning question, steel cut oats or organic? quick cooking or old fashioned? I make my selection and move down the aisle.
Then suddenly I hear some talking from a loud man, as I move closer to the end of the aisle, I saw a plump white man moving along with a carriage and his mouth moving along with him. Then I hear quite clearly, “You like America uh?” My mind had to register for a minute if that this was not a friendly exchange. Bellowed at the top of the man’s voice, everyone in that part of the store had to have heard it. Other people I noticed moved along quietly and said nothing. I turned the corner of the aisle and passed the mom and her children to whom I was certain the shouting was directed.
You know communication is universal and one of the most fascinating elements of communication is how, without words we humans often can pick up the subtle nuances of emotion and state of mind. I passed the mom and noticed her son, probably a pre-teen talking quickly in his native tongue and his mother scolding him back. The exchange continued with mom interrupting son. I imagined the conversation as something the boy spouting off in frustration, answering the rude man’s racist jest and mother telling him to be quiet and move on.
The man’s voice echoed in my mind, the tone of mom and son’s speech and I had a hunch, I turned from my carriage and faced the mother and asked out loud, “Did that man just say what I thought he said?” The mother answered, “Yes!” with a look of disbelief and frustration. I told her I wish I had been there and spouted off about what a horrible thing and what an ass, she said he just started talking to her and yelling at her. We vented together, me allowing her, I hope, the permission to be angry; to know that not all ‘white’ people agree with the ignorance of that man.
But whatever I could do as a ‘white’ person far outnumbers the violence and offensiveness of the racists. Often I feel as if I am fighting a losing battle and I never have the opportunity enough times, nor enough support from my white peers to fight this problem.
More than likely I can’t find enough ‘white’ to stand up to this, because there are too many telling each other that racism doesn’t exist anymore. They say that conversations and verbal assaults like what I witnessed today are rare, if happening ever at all and certainly not in our community!
Well there it is, in your community and this isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed this or had to sit and listen to an endlessly ignorant and arrogant white person tell me how they know all about people of color. Come again?
I know it exists, I know it happens. I don’t have to be the witness every minute to verify the experiences of people of color when they tell me stories they tell me in confidence. I don’t want to walk away and pretend I don’t notice when incidents like the above happen, in fact I wish I had caught on sooner and had been in closer proximity to what was going on today; I would have been happy to provide an example of a white person standing up to a racist.
I don’t have to have dark skin to know that racism is wrong. I don’t have to count on my fingers the number of dark skinned friends I have to figure out whether I’m qualified to speak out against racism. I don’t need someone to tell me that as a white person I have privilege when nearly once a week, maybe everyday depending on where I am, I hear a white person justify to me, why they think their white skin makes them better than and different than someone without white skin. I hear it, I hear their ignorant words and their ignorant ideas. I hear white people say to me about “that part of town”. I hear white people say to me, “Well he’s black.” I hear white people say to me, “I don’t rent to Mexicans.” I hear white people say to me, “Black people are lazy, spanish people are noisy.” Should I go on white folks or do you know what I am saying?
So don’t tell me there’s no racism. See: 10 Conversations I’m sick of Having with White People