This morning I happily drove to pick up copies of The New York Times featuring an article about Amandla’s friendship with fellow actor Rowan Blanchard. Ahead of me was a very large man – in height and girth – who purchased half a dozen magazines.
“Would you like a bag with that?” asked the newsstand man.
“No, thanks,” replied the customer.
I placed my five hefty issues of the Sunday Times on the counter and handed him my credit card. He rang up my purchase. Silence. “May I have a bag please?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said, reaching for a white plastic bag behind him and placing the papers inside.
I immediately launched into my default way of being and interacting in the world, a tactic I think I learned, perhaps unconsciously, from my mother. I engaged him.
.Looking him directly in the eye, I asked, “Do you know if there’s a car wash near here?”
Pointing down the street, he answered, not once but twice, going into a detailed explanation.
I drove home and went about my morning. But in my soul, I felt a twinge, an ache, that became a heaviness. I began to cry.
Why had this white man not offered me a bag when he had offered one to the previous customer, another white man?
Was it intentional on his part?
Was he trying to make up for his slight, his oversight, when he gave me directions to the carwash?
I called a friend and shared what had happened. “Am I being overly sensitive?”
“No, not at all,” he said. “He didn’t see you.”
Ah, I thought. That's why I felt compelled to engage him. I was declaring: You. Will. See. Me.
Usually, I’m optimistic about what I view as a transformation. Something new, something vibrant, is emerging, as old paradigms collapse. One can hear the earth moaning as she heaves and embraces all of us in a collective sigh. These past few days, however, I’ve been feeling the weight of these times, of this particular moment. The names keep coming: George Floyd. Daunte Wright. Adam Toledo. Lindani Myeni.
Then there was this:
I saw an article about a parent who had distributed an outrageous letter explaining why he was pulling his daughter out of Brearley, the private girls’ school I attended from grades six to twelve in New York. Brearley has adopted an anti-racist policy, and it would seem a lot of folks aren’t too happy about that. They don’t believe in systemic racism. I read the many comments supporting this father’s anti anti-racist rhetoric and while I’m not surprised, it still caused me to heave and sigh.
All of this came to bear when I found my chest tightening and my tears streaming this morning. “This is what it means to have white privilege,” I told my friend, who is also white. “You don’t have to drive home on a beautiful Sunday morning wondering if the newsstand man didn’t offer you a bag because you’re Black.”
I then called up someone, or rather, something that always yields an answer—my faith. I tuned into my spiritual center Agape’s service and heard these words, spoken by Rev. Michael Beckwith. “Life wins. Love wins. Beauty wins. Always.”
The band began to play, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Not the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell version I’ve always known and loved and coincidentally, blasted just yesterday (I don’t really believe in coincidences but in messages and signs). The lyrics had been altered: “Nothing can keep me from you, God.”
Rev. Michael was right. Life wins. Love wins. Beauty wins. Always. And just like that, the heaviness began to lift.
I like to make stuff...and think about stuff.