Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Racism In Black and White

No, this is not about monochrome photography. Not today. Today I am stepping away from my socially safe worlds of photography and music to describe a highly non-artistic picture that was painted for me during a noon walk around the tree-lined suburban office park where I work. When the weather is cool enough here in the deep south, as it was today, I will head out for a stroll around the mile and a quarter loop along which are built several dozen large office complexes. It’s all new and modern. Tree-lined streets and driveways, well landscaped buffers between the main road and the sidewalk and the parking lots, retention ponds with parks and benches. The noon hour generally brings out walkers and runners, and today started like any other – me chugging along slowly, watching nature, runners and faster walkers passing by every few minutes from both directions. Most of the folks heading the other way will say hello, or at least nod. A young oriental woman with a bottle of water walked – actually half jogged -- past me then slowed to a fast walk as she made the left turn to stay on the loop. I thought nothing of it as she continued down the sidewalk about 25 yards in front of me.

Perhaps a minute later I watched her take a quick turn into the street, back into her light jog. Coming toward me on the sidewalk just before the location that the woman hit the street was a large black man, casually dressed. The woman’s sidelong glances at him, the over-the-shoulder checks and she moves away, made it crystal clear that he was the reason for her departure from the concrete onto the asphalt. About 10 more yards down the road, she cut across the grass barrier and returned to the sidewalk at a walking pace, still looking back. She looked back several more times as she continued down the sidewalk. As I walked up to, then just past the man, he turned and looked back at her and softly muttered:
            “Racist-ass”
I stopped and turned back to him to acknowledge his remark.
            “Not you, man,” he said, no doubt thinking I was offended, “her. Racist-ass bitch.”
            “You’re right,” I said. “You’re right, I saw it.”
The look in his eyes was more disbelief than anger – through there was clearly some of that, too. I walked on and watched the woman walk down one of the driveways towards a glass office building. She continued to look back in the direction of the black man, who just stood there staring back. How simple it is to wreck a fellow human being’s lunchtime walk.
            I try not to judge. I have no way of knowing what that woman’s life experiences have been. After all, she did speed up to get by me and didn’t slow to a walk until she perceived a safe distance. Maybe she fears all men, though she clearly, and perhaps overtly, avoided the black one. It was like she was trying to make a point of it. If she was, he got that point. Strait between the eyes. It was hard to watch. And all I could do was say “you’re right”. I have no similar experience to draw from and offer empathetic sympathy. Sometimes people just suck. No pictures. Not today.

3 comments:

I am a lover of children's literature said...

It's hard to judge another simply by external circumstances, but it's clear that any form of racism is wrong and I only hope that the day will come soon when this ugly aspect of humanity will be relegated to the distant past!

carol said...

I don't think that I am a racist in any way but a woman alone has got to be careful...it's a scary world out there. I do a lot of walking alone, mostly in parks, nature trails etc. I have a sense when somebody isn't OK. Two black men walking dog...Ok, one over weight man in work clothes...don't know, he gave me the creeps. You never know, do you? I carry pepper spray but that isn't alway an assurance.

The Vital Muse said...

I hear you, Carol -- but this one was just so blatant. The turning and looking when she was several hundred feet down the road. The fact that there were other people walking and jogging in wide open spaces. The bigger point is how that guy must have felt - and how he must feel it fairly regularly. Something you and I just can't experience...