My arm hurts because I had to get a big old shot the other day. And I was thinking about writing a blog post on my Anti-Racist Resolutions™. I rarely seem to get my responses right the first time. But what I know is that I do have to respond. Perfect being the enemy of good and all that.
I was thinking about several different issues I’d like to address better, but kept coming back to one thought in particular.
About a month ago, I was walking on the sidewalk in front of the grocery store when a white guy punched me in the arm. Hard.
I think I must have seen something out of the corner of my eye, because I tucked and rolled my shoulder and his fist didn’t connect solidly. But it still hurt. He was a big guy and had big heavy hands. I got home and somebody asked me what had happened. And I said, “I think some guy just punched me in the arm for no reason.”
I think some guy just punched me. Not some guy just punched me.
I think some guy just punched me in the arm for no reason.
Then I was asked, “Why didn’t you call the police?” I don’t know why I didn’t.
Then I forgot all about it. Until I started to write a blog post and my arm was throbbing.
Because although you may hear white people claim that people of color make mountains out of molehills and exaggerate racism and look for racism under every rock, the reality is that people of color deny more racism in a year than white people will acknowledge in a lifetime. It’s a coping mechanism.
Once when I was at a hate crime seminar, the presenter asked people in the audience to share if they had ever been the victim of a hate crime or discrimination. I was fuming. It made me think of horrible, dreadful, terrible, scary, awful, vicious things that had happened, both to me and to people I know and love. The thought of sharing this pain with a group of strangers was simply outrageous. Also, it wasn’t as if personal testimony was needed to make a point. All you have to do is open your eyes. Nobody spoke, which probably lead some people in the room to infer that racism wasn’t really that big a deal after all.
On the drive home, I was still really angry. And then all of a sudden I thought of the Absolute Worst Thing. It was something I had blocked out a long time ago. For my own sanity. But the seminar was a huge trigger, and I had to pull the car over. Even as I write this now, I can hear blood hammering in my head.
But an hour prior, when I was asked about hate crime, I did not remember. Because I cannot go about my day to day life and constantly remember.
I cannot go on job interviews and remember every time I was asked if I speak English fluently. Or even well enough to perform the job. I cannot look for apartments and remember all the places that were suddenly filled when I showed up to see them.
White people often encourage people of color to “just get over it.” “Move on,” they say. Can’t we just move forward?
I don’t know that I am over it. Because the reality is that I do not think I forget. The reality is that all this stuff is jammed into a box that I desperately try to keep the lid on. I pretend the box is not there.
My brain’s defense mechanisms fascinate me. I recognize that I kept trying to convince myself that a stranger really couldn’t have punched me for no reason. It must have been an accident somehow. It could not have been a deliberate action. This despite the fact that I know only too well about the racist sucker punch.
But it makes no sense, right? Right?
Because if I constantly thought that a stranger might sucker punch me, I would not be able to go outside. I would be afraid for the people I love. I would jump when a stranger walked past me on the sidewalk.
Yet some part of me knows. Because without thinking, I tucked and rolled.
I also wonder why I did not call the police. I imagine that one of the reasons might be that I have an inherent distrust and fear of them. Being stopped a bunch of times will do that to you.
The few times I have called, the responses have discouraged me from calling again. Because I was made to feel like I was not credible, like I did not know what I was talking about or that the crime committed against my person or my property was not worth their time.
Somewhere deep inside I know that if I had called the police, I would probably have gotten the response that runs in my own internal soundtrack: Well, that makes no sense at all. Nobody would just haul off and punch another person for no reason. You must have imagined it.
Because what I did was try to convince myself over and over that I did imagine it.
And yet I know better.
I think of all the ways that internalized crap feeds upon and perpetuates racism. And I think with some shame about a co-worker who came in from lunch one day and told me that she was standing outside when a guy came up to her, slapped her across the face and called her a n*gger b*tch. Why didn’t I call the police then?
At other times in my life I have responded differently. That is to say, physically. But this time I walked away.
The other thing I keep thinking about is why didn’t anybody else react? Like the other times, this was in broad daylight. Like my co-worker out for lunch. Why didn’t one person say or do something? Anything?
It builds my resolve to say something if I am a witness in the future. Because having nobody speak is like saying you’re worth nothing. So a stranger can punch you for no reason, and people will just keep walking by as if nothing has happened. (I will note that once a white onlooker called the police on me after I responded physically. Because it was okay to witness another white person jump me for no reason, but not okay for me to knock that person down and rub snow on his face.)
I am surprised sometimes by the power of the voice. I was on the train once when a white man started harassing a black woman. Most of the people sat and pretended they didn’t hear anything. I yelled, “What the fuck! Half the people in this train car are people of color and we don’t agree with you! Get the fuck out of here!” (I enjoy saying “fuck.”)
I tell this story not because I think I’m so great, but because I was amazed at how it made people pay attention. It jolted them out of their complacency. They gave the guy angry looks. A couple of people chimed in. And he hurried off the train.
One of the other things I realize is that I am more cautious now. Maybe it’s because I’m always aware of the Absolute Worst Thing. I think I have forgotten but then the box lid slips. This summer I drove up to the town to see what I could find. Because I think part of me wanted to know that it was just my imagination.
Because nobody would do a thing like that for no reason.