Trayvon Who? Or More Tales From Racist America 2013
Last Friday, my husband Andre, and a couple of buddies, took the two and a half hour ride from Providence to the northwest corner of Connecticut, to see Soulive, his all time favorite band.
Norfolk, CT, not to be confused with Norwalk, is a small rural place near the foothills of the Berkshires. Population: 1,709. According to the 2010 US Census, the racial breakdown is: 1659 White, 12 African American, 11 Asian, 2 American Indian, 7 Other and 18 Identified by two or more races.
In other words: 97 percent of the population is white.
In other, other words: Andre, a black man, is probably gonna stick out a bit.
One of the many beautiful things about my husband is, even after living forty-eight years in his dark hued body, that he doesn't look at life with the weight of some angry chip on his shoulder, expecting folks to react in a certain way.
Andre is ALWAYS just Andre. Mellow. Accepting. Nonjudgmental. A quality cat.
His only expectation? That you'll treat him the same.
Friday night was no exception. After dinner at the restaurant downstairs, he started to lead his two friends, tickets in hand, upstairs to the concert venue. The ushers at the top of the stairs, the only official people in sight, were Andre's target.
But apparently, because he'd never been there before, Andre misstepped protocol--and clearly the safety measures that had been put into place to avoid gate crashers.
Even though the place only holds 300 people.
Even though these Three Amigos, one towering way over six feet, would have been pretty easy to spot in the half sold crowd of 150 people, should their intent be to slip past the first checkpoint, a woman who clearly wasn't manning her station.
"Hey! Where are you guys going?" called the woman from off to the side.
"I saw you talking over there," said Andre.
Translation: I didn't think you were working here.
"Yeah, well I thought I was going to have to wrestle you," said the woman.
"I get that a lot," said Andre.
And then? The 'oh, no you didn't moment.' The kind that stops time, where the speaker realizes what she said and the participants wait to see how each other will react.
To Andre, a black man, the white woman said, "Watch it, boy."
Really, lady. What were you thinking?
Sure. I can pause and give her the benefit of the doubt for a (milli)second. What if she was just trying to be flirty? Or show my husband that she was 'down with him'. Sorry. Doesn't matter or work here. There's just certain things you don't do in life, whatever your intent: Say hijack in an airport. Yell fire in a theatre.
And, especially if you're a white person, call a black man, 'boy'.
Way too racially charged. Way too much history. Way too much context.
And truly, what's up with the timing here? Her sorry outburst came just hours after the President's speech on race. It came just days after the George Zimmerman verdict. Maybe its me--and apparently it is-- but is it crazy to think those situations would cause other people to not only reflect about their beliefs, but be a bit more thoughtful about their interactions with one another?
Luckily for her, Andre had that introspection piece covered for both of them.
No doubt, timing is everything. If she had uttered those words to anyone other than my husband, she may have gotten a hugely different reaction. Conversely, if any of this went down prior to the Trayvon Martin case , and his own deep reflections, Andre may have reacted differently. Truthfully, he probably would have opted to say nothing, silently steaming about this ignorant woman.
She would have become part of his negative history.
But instead, because of this Zimmerman verdict. Because of his anger over the senseless killing of a black teen who was much like him. Because of his recent experience developing and teaching a workshop on cultural and race relations, Andre did something a whole lot more powerful.
He looked her in the face and said, very calmly, "That's not very culturally competent."
Andre spoke the truth.
And for a moment, at least, it worked.