I hesitated to write this because it publicly acknowledges my flaws and probably also comes off as an attempt to make something I did to others all about my feelings instead. The fact is, I am imperfect. I am working extremely hard to be better, but in spite of collecting tons of knowledge, perspective, and insight, I still have a long way to go. If you continue reading the following, please know that I decided to go ahead a write it because putting it down on virtual paper somehow makes it more durable. Later, when the feelings of shame and regret have passed, I’ll still be able to read this and be reminded of the work I still must do.
Something happened the other day that I didn’t realize until later. I perpetrated a racist microaggression. Allow me to setup the scenario:
We were taking a tour and a group of us were gathered in a waiting area for transportation from one building to another. There were too many people for the shuttle bus and the person staging our group counted off the allotted number of people and then asked the man holding the door if there was any more room. He responded that he could take 5 more if we didn’t mind standing. I was one of those 5 and as I walked past, I said, “I don’t mind standing as long as you don’t drive like me.” It was meant as silly small talk, but the man’s face indicated he wasn’t amused. He was Black, I am White. He was not the driver of the shuttle. He was an extremely high up executive who had decided to jump on the shuttle to chat with us on the tour. He had spoken to us earlier in the day and had I taken even a moment to process his face, I would have recognized him before opening my stupid mouth.
It is important to understand that I did not assume he was the driver because he was Black. I assumed he was the driver because he was the man holding the door and communicating how many additional passengers the shuttle could accommodate. I am 100% certain that I would have done exactly the same thing if the other person had been White. The thing is, that doesn’t matter. I should have cared enough to take the extra moment and see him for who he was. I don’t know if it’s because I’m introverted or self-absorbed or what, but I just don’t process people that way. I meet new people, and promptly forget them. It’s only after interacting with someone multiple times that I start to recognize them. I can’t tell you how many times a parent of one of my kid’s friends or classmates has come up to chat with me and I’ve been completely clueless as to who they were. But, the man doesn’t know any of that and honestly, it’s a shitty excuse anyway. Of course, I realized my mistake almost immediately. However, it wasn’t until hours later, while replaying the event in my head, that I remembered the look on his face and suddenly it hit me. I perpetrated a racist microaggression! I doesn’t matter that I didn’t mean to, that I didn’t intentionally do it, that I didn’t even do what I did based on race. The only thing that matters is how he interpreted my actions. I can’t take it back, I can’t undo it. What I can do is set my petty shyness aside and make a purposeful effort to ensure I see people for who they are.
It gets worse. Earlier that same day:
The entire group was in at a presentation (being given by the gentleman mentioned above) and there was a small prize being awarded to certain members of the audience. A couple of people (who were White) were running up and down the isles handing out the award to the participants with their hands up. A Black man a couple rows in front of me was skipped over and he had even waved to get the runner’s attention. So, being the righteous social justice warrior I am, I made it my business after the presentation to ensure that the man got his prize. You’ll never guess who happened to be holding them when I went to ask. Yep, the person I talked to about the man being skipped over was in fact the same gentleman from the 1st story. Also, it turns out that the participant was only joking and didn’t want the prize.
So yeah… there you have it. In hindsight, he was a grown man fully capable of speaking up for himself and my intervention was more for my own selfish sense of righteousness… Classic #WhiteSavior moment. That also means that I saw the executive give a presentation, I met and interacted with him and still failed to recognize him as an individual in the doorway. Again, for me, that’s normal and I do believe it has nothing at all to do with race. However, to him… I seriously hope he just looked down on me with disdain. I mean here’s a guy that has most likely over-earned his position of status and given the history of race relations in our country, he would have every reason to assume my comment was a deliberate attempt to knock him down. I owed him so much more than that and I plan to make damn sure it doesn’t happen again.