There are all kinds of stories in the news about White people aggressively asserting their desire to occupy or control public spaces by calling the police on Black folks for all manner of everyday activities:
- Opening your own store
- Selling water on the sidewalk
- Napping in the common area of your college dorm
- Sitting at a Starbucks
- Barbecuing in a public park
- Golfing too slowly
- Working out in a gym
- Campaigning for public office
- Shopping for office supplies
- Swimming at a friend’s pool
- Riding in a car with your grandmother
- Cashing a paycheck
- …and so much more #ExistingWhileBlack
However, the point of this post is to explore the more subtle aspects of our daily interactions. Have you ever taken the time to reflect on how you interact with the people with whom you share space throughout the day? You know, the people in the room with you, people you pass on the street, sitting next to you on the bus, plane, subway and people in line with you at the store, etc…? Does race play a part in those interactions? If so, is it a positive influence or a negative one? Is that influence different for them?
I’ll share a simple story for your consideration:
I was squeezing down a row in a theater when I bumped a young girl’s foot as she crossed her legs. (I’m White, she is Black.) Neither of us was paying attention, I assume, and the accidental contact occurred. Her mother swatted her foot and gave her a disproving look as I was apologizing. I took my seat nearby, but couldn’t get the scene out of my head. I couldn’t help but wonder if my Whiteness played a part in her mother’s reaction or if she was simply scolding her daughter for not being aware.
It doesn’t impact my life if her mother assumed I felt entitled to the space and bumped her daughter’s foot on purpose, or if she believed I was conditioned to treat Black people as invisible, or maybe that I was simply looking in the wrong direction at the last second as a previously clear path became occupied by her daughter’s foot. However, the messaging to her daughter is dramatically different with each of those variations.
So, I offer this to any other White folks wandering by: Would it kill you to consider that a situation might be perceived entirely differently by POC due to the history and legacy of racial oppression?
The morning after that occurrence, I read a post by Hannah Drake which discussed the issue of ceding space to White people. You should definitely check it out. The White tears in the comments alone are worth the visit, but I urge you to accept her challenge as well.