Racism is Alive and Well in My Hometown…Or is It?

This essay first appeared on Patch.com

A blond woman left her white SUV idling as she got out to approach a man bent over a bike. It was one of many lined up along the train platform, ducks sitting in a row. The man’s bright-white basketball shoes stood out against his black jeans, black jacket, black baseball cap and dark skin. He carried a large backpack over his shoulder that kept slipping off, as he worried a screwdriver into a bolt on the reflector light below the bike’s seat.

“Hey, is that yours?” the woman called to the man.

“Ain’t your business, now is it?” he said, too busy to turn around.

“Well, there have been a lot of bike thefts around here,” she said.

“So I heard,” he grunted.

“I think you better stop that.”

“Lady, just leave me alone.” The man answered as his fingers worked the reflector light off the bike.

“I’m going to have to call the police.” She pulled a cell phone from the pocket of her beige business suit.

“Goddamn it,” the man swore under his breath. He stood up and turned to look at his accuser. “Why is it every time a black man does something, you whites gotta think we’re stealing or thieving?”

“I told you I’m calling the police,” she yelled as she backed away.

Suddenly,  the traffic cleared, and I was forced to continue driving on along Alma. Within moments, two police cruisers sped past me in the opposite direction, their lights were flashing as they raced to their destination, heroes to the rescue.

That moment, that brief glimpse into someone else’s drama, has stayed with me for days. Was he stealing the bike light? Was she acting responsibly by challenging a man whom she clearly thought was doing wrong? Or was this a case of false accusation, one laden with inherent racism? If he was white, would she have even assumed he was stealing at all? Could it have been just another example of the bias that happens everyday across cities and towns in our great country? And what would I have done in the same situation? Would I have chosen to approach the man? Or would I have avoided doing so for fear of being accused of racism or, more likely, because of indifference?

Not my problem. Or is it?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but on this day when we honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and all that he stood for, I am taking time to ponder them. One thing I do know: I believe we have a responsibility to watch out for each other. The question we must ask ourselves, though, is which “other” are we watching out for?

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3 responses to “Racism is Alive and Well in My Hometown…Or is It?

  1. Thank you Lisen for this beautiful post. I agree with you and wonder about the same questions. I can tell you that as a Muslim living in USA sometimes I got annoyed from the assumptions that happens around me. Last winter my wive’s car got towed after I had an accident with it. When I went to the towing ramp to pick it up, the lady refused to even let me take my laptop from the car, even though it was snowing that day and my laptop was going to freeze although I proved to her that the car is my wife’s car and provided to her all the documents she asked for. I had to call my white wife to come pick up the car, it took her only five minutes to do that. The lady reasons that the car is not mine which means that everything in the car was not mine even though I was the only one in the car at the accident time, which made me say to her what if I had a kid in the car with me, would you assume also that he/she wasn’t mine and you wouldn’t let me take him/her and leave him/her in the car?

    It was a ridiculous question from me I know, but I was so angry; especially with what was happening in Egypt at that time and being not able to contact my family for days.

    regarding you story, if I was in her situation I would call the police without letting him/her know that, which wouldn’t make them feel hurt. Or I would weigh the value of the thing I believe it’s being stolen and the value of hurting someone’s feeling. Which means if it’s something small and Or at least I am not 100% sure so I would choose to not hurt them.

    Thank you again for this post. I also like your last blog about Steve Jobs, It’s really good.

    I like your blog and I will subscribe to it 🙂

  2. Hi Lisen, just wanted to tell you that enjoyed your piece in the 25 April 11 edition of NewsWeek. I picked up the magazine sitting in the waiting room at a doctors visit and ended up leaving with the hospital with it because my name was called before I could complete your article…Opps was I suppose to tell you that? I am a fellow writer in Chicago and would love to meet you if ever you’re in town.
    Jil

    • JIll,
      Thanks for reaching out. Shh.. I won’t tell if you won’t tell. I’d love to stay connected. Not in Chicago much but who knows?
      Best,
      Lisen

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