I am wrapping up Untamed (I'm reading multiple books at a time okay?!) and Glennon Doyle's 'Racist' chapter was incredibly topical with the Black Lives Matter movement. It particularly got my wheels turning on two experiences that have left me with opposing feelings I am trying to reconcile and would like to share with you.
The first situation was right before James and I went to visit his mother and got tested for corona despite being asymptomatic out of safety concerns. We arrived at the testing site promptly at its 9 am opening to an already long line of cars. About 3 hours into waiting, we noticed our car was running low on fuel. It would really suck to run out of gas in the sweltering Florida heat and create a literal roadblock for the long line of people behind us. It would also suck to leave the line and not get tested after already waiting so long.
So, we motioned to one of the national guards to tell them our dilemma. The guard understood and told us we could leave the line to get fuel for the car and that we could come straight back to our place. He told us there would be an officer near the exit that we should notify and that he would meet us at the gate to verify we had his approval. When we got to the designated exit to stop and motion for the officer at the exit gate, the officer became angry with us and was aggressively motioning for us to continue along - that we were not able to stop there. He was not very close, so could not hear what we were trying to say. He became more agitated that we were not obeying his signal to keep going. As he approached our car, we tried to explain our situation, but he was still quite frustrated. The first officer we asked for help luckily was approaching by now and he intervened to tell his colleague the situation. The anger of the officer had been diffused and he kindly told us to go get fuel and to come back to see him when we were returning so he could let us back into the line where we left.
As we drove to the nearest gas station, it occured to me this likely would have been a very different situation if James and I were not two white people.
Thinking we could ask to leave the line and come back was privilege.
Being told we COULD leave the line and come back was privilege.
Feeling comfortable waiting for an angry officer to approach our car so we could explain our situation was privilege.
Having another officer come to our aid and diffuse another officer's confused anger was privilege.
I felt sad by this realization. I also felt proud to be aware of my privilege.
The second experience was about 2 weeks later. James and I were at a checkout desk and had to provide our IDs to the store employee who was white. We left our IDs on the counter while we sat and waited. A black man came up to the counter after us. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him put what looked like a New York state ID in his wallet. I also noticed my ID was no longer on the counter. I asked the black man if he picked up my ID by mistake. He pulled out the ID and said no that this was his. He was clearly insulted by me questioning if he took my ID. He said he was aware that 'someone like him would get in a whole lot more trouble for taking someone else's ID'. The white man behind the counter then told me it was his mistake that he had not given us our IDs back sooner and that he had them behind the counter.
I felt bad that the man was insulted but I also felt annoyed that he was insinuating I only asked him if he took the ID because he was black.
When the black man was away from the counter, the white store employee said to me that he thought I owed the black man an apology; that it was his mistake for not returning my ID sooner and that if I were to have asked anyone about my ID no longer on the counter it should have been him.
I felt anger and defensiveness. Why should I apologize? I truly would have asked anyone, regardless of the race, the same question in this scenario. I also genuinely thought that if he or anyone else had picked up my ID, it would have been out of a true mistake, with no ill intention.
In the end, I did approach the black man to apologize before leaving the shop as he was standing outside. I told him I was so sorry and that I did not mean to offend him; that I have picked up other people's things by mistake before and saw how easily that could have happened and did not think he would have taken it intentionally. This did not seem to please him. Thinking I could relate with him, I added that I was traveling over the coming days and that I am sure he could understand how realizing I didn't have my ID would have been a disaster.
Writing this out now, I cringe at my apology. I had hoped that even the effort to approach and apologize would have been good enough. Although less upset than before, he was still hurt and told me in a defeated manner 'Don't worry about it, I am used to it.'
I continued to stew upon my defensiveness in the car, expressing to James that I was in a lose-lose situation. Why couldn't the man have accepted my apology? Why did he have to make me feel worse with a comment like 'I am used to it?' Shouldn't he graciously accept my apology for a genuine misunderstanding? I went to multiple #BLM protests in Washington Square Park, goddammit. I stayed out in one of the movements even through the rain! I have signed petitions calling for justice for Breonna Taylor. I have gotten into heated arguments with my parents over their racist reactions to the BLM movement. I have donated to the NAACP.
Glennon's chapter and the two experiences highlight to me an ugly realization - when I was on the receiving end of a favorable outcome due to my whiteness, I felt pride; when it was an unfavorable outcome, I felt attacked and defensive.
"Every white person who shows up and tells the truth- because it's her duty as a member of our human family - is going to have her racism called out. She will have to accept that others will disagree with how she's showing up and that they will have every right to disagree. She will need to withstand people's anger, knowing that much of it is real and true and necessary. She will need to accept that one of the privileges she's letting burn is her emotional comfort. She will need to remind herself that being called a racist is not the worst thing. The worst thing is privately hiding her racism to stay safe, liked, and comfortable while others suffer and die. There are worse things than being criticized - like being a coward."
As empathetic/woke/liberal as I think I may be, I have a lot of work to do. With that, I propose our next book is Thick: And Other Essays that confronts racism and whiteness by Tressie McMillan Cottom, Ph.D.
If you're still reading, thank you and I apologize in advance for likely many ignorant views even within this email.