I turn into Hobby Lobby, my happy place, and start the search for a parking spot on this unusually warm December Saturday afternoon. Ah! There is one. Unfortunately, it is next to a car and I can’t pull through. I hate parking next to cars. I also hate backing out of parking spots. I carefully pull in and straighten up, so I don’t scratch anyone’s car and so no one scratches my baby. 🙂 I put my baby in park and turn my head to the right. I see that the driver is still in the car and is talking to someone. For whatever reason I’m sitting here, taking my sweet time to come out of my car. The driver comes out, swings open her door, and hits my car. Thud! I look at her. She looks at me. We make eye contact. Eyeball to eyeball. She says nothing and continues her conversation.
I’m mad. Who does she think she is??! Just cause she’s white gives her no right to treat me or my car that way! How dare she!? Didn’t she see me? I mean, I know my windows are tinted, but they are not that dark. Just because I’m black doesn’t make me invisible! What kind of wicked people are these?! Going around burning our neighborhoods and now decades later they’re still treating us like crap!! This is why … … …
Let me pause and explain that the evening before, I was in the Greenwood area of Tulsa, Oklahoma. For those of you, like me, who did not know about this area of Tulsa, it was a very up and coming African-American neighborhood, known as America’s Black Wall Street. It was burned down at the leading of the government and with the assistance of white Tulsans who were very much displeased with the success of this community. This was on June 1, 1921, in what is known as the Tulsa Race Massacre that saw the razing of 35 blocks of homes and businesses. And now, in 2017, here I was, standing in front of an art exhibit in the Living Arts Museum, that was to serve as a reminder of this tragedy and standing near where all this happened, really stirred up anger in me. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate white people. In fact, I’m quite cordial with white people and have white colleagues and acquaintances. However, this reminder of this awful and evil event and seeing that Greenwood was no longer known as the glorious Black Wall Street made me quite despondent at the condition of our nation. We may not be burning down blocks of homes, but have we really broken the cycle of hatred and tension? Unbeknownst to me, the next day I would be faced with my own incident with a white person.
I came out of my car, walked around to the other side, and checked my car to be sure there was no damage to her. I folded my side mirror in fury, rolled my eyes and walked away – and she STILL didn’t apologize. I began a conversation with God. ‘I am so angry right now!’ ‘Well, then you should say something.’ ‘But I’m alone and there’s strength in numbers and what if it turns ugly?’ ‘You’re alone? Really? Well if one of your friends was here you’d be quick to jump and say something, wouldn’t ya? Why is it that I’m not enough for you?’ ‘………Good point!’ I continued walking towards Hobby Lobby. ‘That’s fine; by the time you come back to your car you will meet them there.’
I walked around Hobby Lobby, waiting for my order and looking at all the wonderful items that I wish I could buy for absolutely no reason. But inside I was going back and forth. ‘Okay, but I don’t want to be contentious.’ ‘Contentious!?? This person wronged you! You need to not see Christianity as a means for people to walk all over you. Being a Christian is not about keeping your mouth shut when someone offends you. You can sternly but gracefully let people know that what they did was wrong. It is not okay to walk around with pain.’
I continued walking and talking (in my head of course). I passed someone who I thought was the woman. ‘I should say something. Wait, but what if I go off on the wrong woman and then it blows up into this big scene ‘cause I just assumed they all look alike and just yelled at the first white woman I saw to get my anger out the way?! That wouldn’t be good.’ I decided that was not the best solution. I walked away to cool off and figure out what to say. My name was called over the intercom to pick up my order. I go to get it and check out.
I headed toward my car, still thinking about what I woulda, coulda, shoulda, and sure enough, they were there when I got to my car. I felt God was like, ‘Now is the time.‘ I put my things in my car and walked over to their driver’s side window. I gestured my hand for the man to roll down his window. Sure enough, the woman was the woman I was about to yell at in the store. I said to the woman, who was now sitting in the passenger side, ‘Hi. I parked my car here while you were still in yours, you came out, you hit my car, you looked at me, and you said nothing! That was not cool! I’m not trying to be “the angry black girl” but you need to know that was not cool. You could apologize or something but you didn’t. What you did there are reasons why people like me wind up on the 6 o’clock news because of people like you. Not cool!’ She immediately began to apologize. Her husband said nothing and had a straight face on. I said ‘Okay, Merry Christmas.’ and walked around back to my car.
My body temperature rose. My voice was shaky. I thought her husband would call the cops. I thought he would punch me in the face. I thought he’d say I assaulted him and his wife and was disrespectful to their child in the back seat. I was still upset as I sat in my car, but I was glad I addressed it. I felt like an adult! Finally. I waited for them to pull out, not because I was scared or anything, I just rather other people pull out first. Again, I hate parking next to cars. I pulled out and was confused as to why their car stopped some six spots down. I was even more confused and slightly afraid of why she was then approaching my car. Thankfully there was no bat in her hand. But was there something else?? Her hands were free though, as she walked towards me.
She walked up to my car and asked me to roll my wind down. I did. Pleading the blood of Jesus. She said she was sorry again and began to explain what happened. A part of me was like, ‘oh pah-lease’, but I listened. She said she was talking to her husband when I pulled in and when she opened the door and hit my car she saw me. She knew she saw me. She knew what she did, but she didn’t say anything. She said she didn’t know why she didn’t say anything but it was wrong and she was sorry. I could tell she was distraught at not seeing me and not feeling the need to acknowledge my existence and her wrong in that moment. She went on and said, ‘I want to thank you for putting me in my place.’ I was floored! I was not going to tell her, “It’s okay”, because it was definitely not okay. I said, ‘Well thank you for handling this like a mature adult. I appreciate that.’ She apologized again. Thanked me and said, ‘Have a blessed day.’ She walked to her car and I waved as I drove by, still shocked by the outcome of that encounter.
An article I wrote was published in Sahara Reporters on how race relations in America is mainly a black and white issue and not a white and African issue or white and African-American issue. It was now my turn; the fight came knocking on my door. And through this, I learned several things.
I realized that addressing racial tension through mature discourse is a way to move forward past our own hurts and past the wrongs that face various races. Sweeping things under the carpet only makes a mountain of built up anger, tension, hatred, and rage! Imagine the type of negative emotions that rose up in me towards another race all because of something one person did! But then imagine how much hope now resides in my heart for our nation because of how we handled that situation. Actualizing our knowledge of the need to talk and empathize with another race is what is needed to move towards healing the racial tension in our nation. All races need to be open to speaking AND listening to each other’s concerns, not for the purpose of pointing out wrong ideology, but for empathy and progress.
I re-learned that wisdom is important. The discourse that we have needs to be done in a non-contemptuous and respectful way. The words we speak, the way we respond, the tone of our voice, and our body language says a lot. Actually, it probably says it all! Yes, I was angry and I added bass to my voice, but I did not cuss her out or use racial slurs. I did not even address her husband or her child. I spoke in a mature and stern manner and used direct and specific language in addressing the wrong. I don’t know what she said to her husband or what her husband said to her, but for her to feel the need to stop their car, come out, walk back to me, and say what she said was evidence that my words had power and had an impact over the situation.
Granted not everyone from another race would have been as mature as this woman. Not everyone would have apologized. But the important thing is acknowledging the wrong, pointing out, and validating your humanity. I believe in a situation where a person stubbornly refuses to see their error, what was said to them will still ring in their mind and come back to convict and convince them that they are wrong. But if we say nothing, that won’t happen.
On a more personal note, I grew. Before this, God had been dealing with me and getting me to understand that I need to stand up for myself, that I need to be bold, and that I need to address things that concern and bother me and basically stop being a big baby and be an adult. And this was just another situation, most likely not by His design, but certainly used by Him, where I had a choice to make. Was I going to let this wrong go unnoticed or was I going to face it? I thank God that I chose to face it and not cower in the shadows of religiosity or incorrect humility or fear of race, status, or anything else for that matter.
Some people may read this and say, ‘This is all hob wash’ and I ‘should’ve taken her to town’ or ‘made her cry’ while we were both in Hobby Lobby. First of all, that’s not who I am. Secondly, I didn’t need to put her in her place to put her in her place. I didn’t need to embarrass her to get my point across. If I went off on her in Hobby Lobby, I’d probably be writing this with a citation on my record and a very different ending. She probably wouldn’t have listened to me either. She probably wouldn’t have even known what I was talking about. The mission is progress, together, in healing and making race relations better. The purpose is not to embarrass or belittle anyone or make an example of someone. Progress is not always done by boisterously carrying on. Sometimes it takes the power of maturity and the power of one to change things around. I also certainly believe that prayer had something to do with it as well!