I’m scared to post this. I’m scared that you’ll hate it. I’m scared that you’ll tell me to go back to writing about seagull attacks and donuts and probes. I’m scared that this isn’t my place.
But, I’m writing it anyway. Because, as the great Bloggess once wrote, “This is my house. You are welcome here. You are wanted…” but this is also my goddamn house, so I’m going to write whatever I want to.
A few days ago, my mom and myself were walking along the seawall. It was dark. The city lights bouncing off the water beside us, laughter and the murmur of conversation floating out of the restaurants lining the harbour. Clinking glasses, cutlery, water lapping up against boats.
“Cardero’s is so busy all the time,” My mom said, pointing to a restaurant rising out of the water on tall wooden poles.
She was pumping her arms. I could hear her breath. Fast, like my own.
We call her The Roadrunner. And she was living up to her nickname.
I half-jogged beside her. “Yeah, I know. I’ve never been there–”
Behind us, a voice. A man. Talking on the phone or mumbling to himself, we weren’t sure.
We kept talking.
“Oh, you should see the crowds,” My mom said, striding slightly in front of me.
“Yeah, you just keep walking fast,” The voice behind us muttered. Louder, now. Loud enough that we stopped talking and looked over our shoulders. We were, after all, the only people speed-walking along the seawall.
A young man was walking behind us. Maybe a few years older than me. His hands hovered beside his ears, holding earbuds. He was looking at us, smiling sadly. “I know. I’m scary. I’m sorry I’m black. I’m sorry you’re scared of me because I’m black.”
“Wait–” My mom and I said in unison.
“You just keep on walking fast. I’m scary.”
I look at my mom, who’s looking at me. We turn together. “What?”
He was beside us, now. If someone was looking, they would have thought that we were walking together. A straight line. Friends.
“Every time I increase my stride, you pick up your pace.” He shrugged, his hands still hovering beside his ears. “It’s okay. I’m used to it.”
“Wait, no, no, no…” My mom said. “I’m just a fast walker. My kids call me The Roadrunner.” She pointed at me, and I nodded vigorously. Shocked.
“Yeah,” I pressed my hand to my chest. My eyes were wide. “I’m so sorry, we were totally unaware of you until you said something. I’m really just trying to catch up with this one–” I pointed to my mom.
“Okay.” He laughed, shaking his head. He didn’t believe us. “Okay.”
“No, seriously.” I frowned. My hands balled into fists. “We didn’t even know you were behind us.”
Internally, I screamed. I’m not a freaking racist! How dare he make an assumption about me just because I’m whit– Oh…
Heat bloomed in my cheeks. I looked down at my feet. The light of the street lamps flared off the white rubber of my soles.
“Okay.” He threw up his hands.
“I’m sorry–” I shifted my eyes to his face. My cheeks were still hot. “I’m sorry that you thought that we were changing our behaviour because — well, I know that that’s a real problem today…”
“Yeah.” He said.
There was a short silence. Uncomfortable. Strange. All of us still walking together. A straight line. Friends.
Maybe he believed us, because he started talking about how his mom was a fast walker, too. How he’d been in Vancouver for 12 years. How he wanted Canada to be his permanent home.
At some point, he stopped. “Hey, what’s your name?” He looked at my mom.
I waited for her to tell him a fake name. She always does when she talks to strangers. (Once, we were leaving yoga and a very nice man came up to us and started asking us about what type of yoga we had been doing, and my mom decided that he was some kind of threat and told him that her name was Lorraine).* But, she smiled, held out her hand, and said her real name.
“I’m Eli.” He took her hand and shook it. Then, he reached out to me.
“RG,” I smiled, taking his hand in my own. His palm was soft. I can still feel his fingers in mine.
“Nice to meet you.” He nodded. “You two have a nice night.”
And then he pushed his earbuds into his ears and walked away.
My mom and I walked in silence until we couldn’t see him anymore. And then she turned to me. “Do you think he believed us?” Her voice was low and urgent.
“I don’t know…” I trailed off.
I still don’t know if he believed us. I never will. I hope he did, but I guess that’s not really the point. The point is that he believed that we were changing our behaviour because of his race. He saw us speed-walking in front of him and believed that we were buying into the (dangerously untrue) stereotype that black people (and especially black men) are more likely to be violent criminals. He thought that we were afraid of him.
And that makes me so incredibly sad, because Eli’s assumption likely came from his experiences with the systemic racism that is outrageously prevalent in our society today. Experiences with people hurrying away from him, security guards following him through stores, police officers hassling him (or worse). Experiences that shouldn’t have happened, but did because too many people think that racism is a non-issue today.
And, sure, Eli made an assumption about me and my mother. An assumption based on our race. But, guess what? The worst thing that came out of that assumption was some hurt feelings.
But, if you flip the situation around, you have a white person making an assumption about a black man. And guess what do you have? You have Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown Jr. and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and so many (too many) more names. And that is indefensible. That is devastating. That is the society that we live in.
Ultimately, black lives matter. And that is not something that I should be afraid to say.
*Her name is not Lorraine.
I wrote this article after reading this very helpful post in The Root.
If you are white, please educate yourself on how to be the best ally possible. I am still learning, myself, so I’m very open to having frank conversations with all of you about my inefficiencies in this area.
** Names have been changed to protect anonymity.