To the Dark-Skinned Man I Met on Twin Peaks:
Last night I drove to the top of San Francisco to be with my thoughts and take in the sites, sounds, and smells of my adopted city. My spirit needed to recharge and I was making sure that I got what I needed.
I don’t know what you needed in that place but I am happy that you were taking the time and space to fulfill your needs. As is my habit I parked away from the masses. Not so far away that I was surprised when your car pulled in front and you got out. I didn’t know why you approached my car with hesitation. You walked slowly, leaning slightly, elbows bent at 90 degrees. You flashed your hands open, closed, open as if to signal me. I thought, “Is he okay? Does he need help?” as I put my low lights on. Your jacket lit up, your hands were pink, but your face remained dark in my dim lights. You asked for directions and I helped, but my stomach churned with what was in my soul but not quite on my tongue. If I had the words last night I might have told you, “I am so sad if you feel the need to present yourself as small and unthreatening when asking for directions. You deserve to feel safe in your home.”
I do not know that your approached was informed by the multiple shootings of black and brown men this year, and every year, by people scared of their perceptions rather than informed by experience and connection. However, I have some understanding of the complex history and social learning that we have been exposed to citizens of a global society steeped in white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy, and I suspect the two are related.
I hope you got to the top of the hill and got what you needed last night. I suspect that you you did, perhaps aided by a skilled compartmentalizing of hypervigilence and caution honed in daily American life. I am sorry if this has been your experience and almost overwhelmingly saddened that it is an experience of so many people. I say ‘almost’ because I am not frozen by this sadness.
It is not enough to share this story, but I hope that it can spark some conversations about how everyone loses in a society that keeps its members small, that teaches us to be afraid of difference, and limits our connection.
“No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger that its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise.”
– Marian Anderson
It is crucial to point out that racism is not the only -ism that effects us all in negative ways. This story is just one example of how we all lose when we perpetuate systems that oppress others and ourselves. What I know of this material is that there are opportunities on a daily basis to act more consciously and in ways that are in line with my ideals and goals of being an active member of a just community and society. I hope that you will join me in the conversation.
“If you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together.”
– African Proverb
“Each one of you is perfect the way you are and can use a little improvement.”
– Suzuki Roshi
ADDENDUM: The similarities between what I wrote and a controversial piece that went viral were pointed out to me by a friend. The largest similarities are that the subject of the piece is a person that I did not engage with, projected experience onto, and felt sorry for. Below is a link to one very powerful response to the above mentioned article. I encourage you to read it. It also reminds me of a line I heard this morning by J. Live “If you think you can ignore it you’re igNORant.”