gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
[personal profile] gridlore
This one is going to be difficult to write, as I'm rather disturbed about something that happened today.

Kirsten and I were out running weekend errands like any married couple. Couple of stops for stuff surrounding the Free Trailer Beowulf project, although the trip to Home Depot was just supposed to be dropping off old CFLs, we ended up buying what we needed for the stripe painting. Just a normal day.

We were done, with the groceries and other acquisitions in Darby's bed, and headed home. It's a beautiful day here, so I had my window down as Kirsten drove. There was one right turn we were waiting to make when it happened. An African-American man was crossing the street, and I was suddenly seized by not panic, but a feeling of not knowing what to do. Do I make eye contact? What do I do if he moves towards the truck? Should I lock my door?

All of this in the time it took this guy to walk in front of us in the crosswalk and go on his way. I was deeply shaken by my reaction here, because it is so atypical for me. I've spent so many years working with and living in the same areas as African-Americans and other minority groups that I thought I was past such snap panics.

I grew up in Los Gatos and the Cambrian Park area of San Jose, California. Back then I didn;t know about concepts like white flight and racial boundaries, all I knew is I have one Latino classmate, and my best friend's mom was from Peru. We got a double handful of South-east Asian kids when the Vietnamese boat people were finally granted entry to the United States. But still, mine was a mostly white, suburban experience.

But I was exposed to other cultures in music and in books. I was raised to believe that all men were created equal, and that I should judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. But still, I don't think I ever met an African-American until my late teens. I was the model of white privilege.

Then came the Army. While combat arms like the infantry were disproportionately white, my drill sergeants were an African-American man and a Puerto Rican. Later we got a Chinese Drill Sergeant who loved to tell us to "don't cheat your bodies! Do diamond push-ups!" In my first duty assignment I managed to end up in an entirely African-American squad against all odds. As squad mates live, work, and party together, I became, if not part of, at least accepted as a non-threat in the burgeoning rap scene in Atlanta. I also earned the most un-PC nickname in history when our First Sergeant saw us heading out for a Friday night on Victory Drive, announced, "Berry, you're a worse n___r than the rest of them." It stuck. I wore it with pride.

I've even experienced what it's like to be on the bottom of the social ladder due to your ethnicity myself in Hawaii. Get outside Hotel Street and the beaches of Waikiki, and whites are the hated bottom class. At the 25th Infantry Division, we were told never to go into Wahiawa, the town just outside Schofield Barracks, at night or in the day in groups smaller than six. Because the Samoans who worked the cane fields would beat up soldiers for fun, and the cops would charge the victims with disturbing the peace.

Hell, even in the civilian world I've usually been the palest face on the job. My PODS warehouse was mostly African-American, and at Lord & Sons, the place was heavily Latino with two bonus Russians. I should be good at this by now! I mean, our neighborhood has Mexicans (and a lot of NorteƱos living down the street from us), folks of various Asian backgrounds, Indians, and even a few women I've seen shopping in a full Niqab.

So why did this guy freak me out so badly? Was it because African-Americans aren't that common in this little corner of Santa Clara? Was there something in his walk that triggered me? After all these years, I would hate to discover that there's a streak of fear-based racism in me somewhere, I really thought that I was getting past that, and had done so early in life when I jump head-first into the Big Green Melting Pot.

To this random guy minding his own business on a Saturday, I apologize. I owe you and everyone more trust. I'll try to do better next time.


gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)

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