As a white (tall, blonde) woman, I've been looked at many different ways: Dismissively. Appreciatively. Not at all. On the sly. Disrespectfully. Up, down, up, down and back up again.
But, before last weekend, I've never experienced a look of complete and sheer terror. The kind normally reserved for lunging lions. Or realizing that you've woken up inside a burning building. The kind fueled by sheer adrenaline and gut instinct, far beyond any calming grasp of logic.
The kind that black people, like André, my husband of fifteen years, deal with way too often.
The kind that gets black people killed for no other reason than the ignorant narrative of hate in someone else's head.
The kind that white people never get to experience, because if they did, maybe they'd get it. And maybe they'd speak up. And maybe this would finally have a chance of ending in my lifetime.
I'm not holding out hope.
Last Friday. Date night. Boston. 2014. Fifty years past the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A half century since we've had any meaningful dialogue in this country about race or racism, because, just like polio, didn't we cure that back in the day? And, really, what do 'they' want anyway?
We are a country of cowards without empathy or understanding.
Our evening started underground in a garage on Boyston, near historic Fenway. The garage was new. And well lit. And apparently safe enough for the cast of Top Chef Boston, who lived in the expensive digs above during the taping. But on this rainy night, only one other car drove by.
"This place is kinda creepy," said André--uttering the most ironic line of the night.
By the time André and I rounded the corner for the elevator, another couple, also on date night, were waiting in the glass enclosed space. They were in an embrace. Relaxed. Her head tucked on his chest. And then the white man spied André, coming directly towards him.
In his eyes? I saw sheer terror.
And it wasn't even directed towards me. Tunnel vision had kicked in. His focus was entirely on André and the danger that a dark-skinned brother in a black puffer coat, represented to him. Within milliseconds, he transformed my kind husband, known to take in PBS documentaries on wild turkeys, into a violent thug, ready to rob, rape, break both his legs and beat him with them.
White dude, and his limited brain, had entered into a fight for his life.
Only it was all by himself.
As André opened the door for me, white dude immediately went into action, frantically patting himself down, in places that he didn't even have pockets. The dude's complete panic would have been humorous if it wasn't so sad. He said to his date he left the ticket in the car.
He might as well have said the gun.
And he was off. Flight. Leaving his girlfriend, whose only fault was her taste in men, behind. She was polite. She spoke to us directly, telling us to go ahead when the elevator finally came. She treated both of us like human beings. Clearly, her dude could learn a thing or two from her.
If he ever came back from his car.
I can't stop thinking about this. In a sick way, I'm grateful to this asshole, for showing me,as a white person, something that not only has never happened to me, but something that would be really hard for me to imagine, even with my understanding of André's experience in this world.
But really, it just leaves me with more questions.
Like how do we end racism when it comes from a place so deep in someone's soul, that it's a defining characteristic, like eye color--that never gets acknowledge, nevermind challenged? How do we end racism when simply seeing a person of color invokes such an intense, primal response, that certain people decide their only option is to kill before they are killed?
Damned if I know.
I just continue to believe that I'm in this unique place for a reason. So I'll just keep talking.