27 May 2014

On Racism, Fear, and Lunch

The strangest thing just happened to me, and I feel the need to write it down maybe as a means of mentally sorting it out, or maybe in an effort to capture things that make me feel gross as they happen to me - to fully comprehend the nature of events in my life as they occur.

I was eating lunch by myself, down by the river walk. It's a sunny beautiful day, plenty of people are out. I'm just a little lady, enjoying some alone time on a bench in a park, reading Bon Appetit, and then a man sits down on the bench across from me. I don't think anything of it, he reclines for a moment, I continue to read and relax. A few minutes pass, he leans forward and asks me the time, I check my phone and tell him it's nearly 1 pm, we both relax. I return to my magazine.

Then a few minutes pass, and a woman a few benches over asks me if I'm going to the company meeting at two. I tell her she must be mistaken, that I don't work with her, and she assures me that yes, I work with her and that I should come sit with her, meet her colleagues, don't I know Connie? Surely I know Connie. I tell her she must be mistaken, that I have a doppelganger in the building, and return to my reading. The man across from me laughs, and in turn, I laugh. But then the woman returned, a moment later, leans down and whispers in my ear, that she's worried about me sitting near this man, the man across the bench from me, that he's giving her a funny feeling. To just be careful.

Until this moment, it had never occurred to me that this was a conversation loaded with assumptions - a strange and stinging racism that I didn't even see. Up until now, I felt perfectly safe with my environment, but this woman's concerns seem strangely tied to race. The man I was sitting across was African American, I am white. He is a man, I am a woman. How we arrived at this moment, from quiet solitude, two strangers exchanging the time of day, to me suddenly questioning my safety and surroundings, I don't quite know. But I know I felt greased by the whole encounter. I feel weird and sad, vulnerable and naive. I picked up my things, picked another bench, not sure who I was doing it for. The woman who was worried about me, society telling me to fear men, or worse yet, to fear races other than mine, or did I move for myself?

I'm still unsure of what happened or why it happened, but I guess occurrences like this are important to make note of. To file away in the part of my brain for me to revisit over and over when I think about myself in this strange world I inhabit.

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