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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Racism or intolerance, that is the question.

    I live next to a very active church and often come home to find the street filled with cars and my "normal" parking spot gone.  How grateful then, I am to have a driveway that I can pull into, no loss, no foul, no long walk from the car.  However, over the 10+ years that I have lived here problems arise when my driveway is blocked and I cannot get OUT of my driveway.  
          That happened again yesterday.  Rather than sit and pray about the situation, I determined to call the cops ... then decided to ask in the church first.  A young lady said she knew who belonged to the car and would get them--but I was too angry to wait.  Again, I didn't pray.  I said to the teen not to bother, that I guess the asshole deserved a ticket and a tow.  
          I went outside and called 911, but the cell didn't complete the call, so I went inside to use my land line.  When I came out, the sidewalk of the church was lined with people angry at me for interrupting their party, angry at me for swearing to and abusing a child, yelling at me that the car was not one of theirs.  Again I didn't pray first which would/could have turned the entire moment around.  I could have asked them to pray with me--though arguably they were too angry.  The teens mother wanted me to apologize to her child.  I wouldn't and the incident accelerated with words on both sides until I called the mayor and the police arrived.  
         The police calmed me down.  They found out who on the block owned the car.  A neighbor I barely knew (contradiction in terms, right?) came out to move her car saying she'd only been there a minute (an hour?)  and that her own driveway was blocked. They gave her a warning--but I walked down the street and noted that her driveway was not blocked.  Again, instead of praying and rising up and letting go and letting God, I insisted she be cited for blocking my driveway. I called her a liar, (a word I had also applied to the teenager from the church).   The police said they would send her a citation, and they calmed me down. While I walked back up the stairs to my second floor home, I saw the policemen--three now--go over to talk with the crowd.   
          I went inside, collapsed weeping, cursed myself for my part in the incident, and began to fear that the people of the church would sue me for a racism that I don't have, reversing a life that has worked against racism in every way I knew how.  Finally I was praying.  But I could not let go of my hard heart, and so I went to bed weeping.  I forgot to look at the amazing full moon of the night, forgot to call a friend, forgot all about the amazingly good poetry reading I had had at a Friend's meeting earlier in the day.  What a waste.
          Finally I woke up with a softened heart, able to note all the times I could have prayed, hoping to find a way to make amends. This is the first thing--to write about it.
          In the entire situation above, I am the only white character.  I realized that last night.  I realized that by the time the policemen arrived and realized I was scared that I had reacted as if I was just an angry woman and not in a potential racially charged situation.  I think, though, that I am the only one who thought about race in that negative way--none of the crowd had said the usual things I was used to from being a teacher, an early 1970s feminist and an activist.  I said to the policemen that I was scared, that I was white and---they stopped me and said don't go there.  They knew me.  I had lived int the area for a long time.  They had come by for a break and entry.  As I said, they calmed me down.
          I feel humble, softened and ashamed.  But I am also still afraid that it was a racial situation and that the group will sue me for everything I did wrong.  That they will say I wouldn't have treated them that way had they not been black.  That I am racist.  That I am racist.  That I live on privilege.  All my life I have worked to understand privilege.  I fear that one incident when I acted from anger will make my entire life a lie.  
          I am waiting for the shoe to drop.  And so I am praying that I overcome my distrust, that I can cure my anger.  I did not expect to bump up against this fear.  I thought I was beyond that in self consciousness.  I know I have a problem with anger, but I am seeing that I still have racism lingering in my heart.  This is how we find out about the vestiges of racism, when we bump up against them in our hearts instead of opening the door to pray together with whoever is there of any race, in any situation.   
          My BFM tell me that this is a leftover 70's overzealous guilt--that my real problem is intolerance of imperfection and quickness to anger. 
          So let us pray.

[addendum:  The church facilitated a meeting between the mother and I which was positive in so many ways that I was in tears again. She had sent her number so I could call.  From her first enthusiastic response to hearing it was me to the final words she made me feel blessed,]


Sherry Blue Sky said...

What a thorny and prickly situation, Susan. You have written it well. Likely on the other side, some people may have Perceived prejudice or privilege, which wasnt intended. We cant help how others think but I so hope this doesnt cause you further tension in the months to come.......I can see how upset you would feel and that you would go to bed weeping. Especially given how hard you work on your spiritual path. We all fall short, from time to time.....Glad you woke up feeling a bit better - thank God for mornings, and the chance to do a new day better than the last. I applaud your courage in writing and looking at this honestly, a lot of us would hide it. Way to be! Your best friend's assessment sounds good.

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

Dear Susan, I am so moved by the honesty of your account and your willingness to learn from the whole thing. By now I expect you have prayed for guidance. What occurs to me is to wonder if there is something you can put in or across your driveway to block it? (A nuisance to have to get in and out of your car to erect or remove it as you go in or out, but still... Sounds as if parking in your street will always be crowded.) And I also wonder whether it is possible to apologise to the people and ask for their forgiveness - perhaps by fronting up in person again (how confronting that would be!) or perhaps by letter, or by seeking out their minister/pastor/preacher, whatever the person is called and talking to them. I like the 3rd possibility best. I think, if you do make an apology, again don't mention race (unless they do first). Seems to me it really was an anger issue. Only you can know in your heart if you would have been equally angry regardless of race. I think you would, and that you only noticed the racial thing later. If the police, who know the neighbourhood well, said, "Don't go there," it's probably good advice. It suggests to me that (a) it's not a real issue and (b) dragging it in would only muddy the waters and create more tension. And yes, it's good to notice the deep racism that is buried in us all, sad to say. The more aware of it we are, the better we can overcome it in our behaviour. I think you also need a strategy for coping with anger in the moment, so as not to be consumed by it. Maybe the old counting to 10? Well, I expect you could pray about that one too. As for praying in the moment, I don't know what you usually do, but I find a mental yell of, "Help!" works. when I need something quick and urgent. I also wonder why the anger flared up so much this time. Were you very tired and stressed already? Are you taking good care of yourself in all ways? (Advice I need to take note of myself!) I always experience you as kind, thoughtful and gracious, devoted to peace. So naturally there is a shadow! Forgive yourself, my dear — God already has.

Magaly Guerrero said...

Have you ever tried visiting the church while they are in session? I was a case manager some time back (offering assistance with mental health and other needs to sex workers and illicit drug users). When I moved closer to the area I served, I was a bit scared of leaving my house at night or parking my car on the street. It was a frightening neighborhood. I spent weeks like that. Then my behavior annoyed me beyond the fear. How could I help people who I didn't see as, well, people?

I started by going to their church (I'm not even religious). Then I ate at the local soup kitchen a few times and visited the men and women shelters. After that, I began to sit on my steps and watch my neighbors; wave at them and such. I noticed that everybody was very friendly. I felt some of the shame you feel now. A few months went by, and I had a bunch of friendly people; some I started calling friends. It got to the point that there were times when I would wake up in winter mornings, dreading having to shovel my driveway, but didn't have to do it because one of the neighbors had already done if for me. I was the person who took their wives, mothers, children, friends to the hospital or who help them find new ways to keep them from using, and they were grateful for that. More than anything, I think we all figured out that we were all good people... and that we can only survive if we helped each other and learn where the other came from.

I will say a prayer for you and with you, but I will also say that approaching the teenager, her mother and some of the members of the church and sharing these same feelings with them might be the best thing to do. People listen (and often understand) when we let them see the not so wonderful bits that pain our hearts. It reminds them that we are as imperfect as they are.

Many hugs and soothing thoughts, dear Susan.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

In saying your friend's advice is good, I dont mean the quick to anger thing, I mean we do feel super-sensitive and assume guilt on the racial issue after all of our years as activists working for civil rights. To find yourself in such a charged situation must have been devastating to you. Such a possibility for the church members to make false assumptions or judgments. Anyway, thank God it is over and today is a new day. I am so sorry you went through that, and hope you are feeling better. I applaud your honesty and your courage, to look at the situation from all angles. So many people would not.

Susan said...

Thank you, Rosemary. I emailed the Reverend and asked for help finding the people to apologize too. I gave him this link as well. The Reverend--who is also the Mayor--is helping me get the driveway marked. Whew. And as for the anger--yes, yes, and yes. The driveway blockage has been going on for 12 years--this year I went to town meetings in an attempt to move parking to the other side of the street. I had built up anger. Still, I need to pray. I like your brief prayer "Help"! Thank you so much for your support. (Quaker meeting today helped a lot too.) Hugs.

Susan said...

Good advice. Over the 12 years I have lived here, I have attended this church--The Chapel of the Good Shepherd--2 or 3 times and I pull out a chair for outdoor festivals whenever I am home. I am working on finding the family concerned to do exactly what you suggest. I've asked the Rev for a contact but it might take awhile because they were part of a church rental and not regular attenders. Thank you for hugs and soothing thoughts. I am so much better that I am thanking God for this lesson. Look at all the chances I had to make a difference! I will never forget that.

Susan said...

I'm feeling much better, my friend. Thank you for the support.

jo-hanna said...

Skin has become a badge.
Unfairly but I fear irrevocally for our generation.
The beauty of digital connections is that age/race/culture/skin/hair/social status are not instantly detectable. Stop us from making up our mind and drawing conclusions from superficial data.
You didn't have that luxury in your recent contretemps and even though you feel as if you do, the ones around you won't give you credit for it. Because they clearly showed prejudice in this situation. The realization of that must have hurt you deeply, beause of your own liberal attitude.
This is the most complex clash of feelings and hurt that I could imagine. I feel so very sorry that you had to go through this, as I know it won't easily be wiped off the slate of your mind.
Still, regardles of race or culture, I'm glad I don't live next door to you :-) I would be terrified of your temper. Just as well there isn't a trace of that in your writing.

Susan said...

Actually, Jo-hanna, this was/is not the case! I believe it was a mother's reaction, and that racism just came up in my own fear and doubts. And I have received communication from the church that the mother and her party are calm and concerned but not outraged. I am so happy to report to everyone that The lady from the church herself, black to black, told the mother, "She can get angry at a fence post when her driveway is blocked, but Ms.Susan is not racist." Wow. My neighbors at the church notice and know me better than I knew.

And Jo-hanna, my anger is rare and non-violent. I am known as a smiling and kind person, which is why when I get angry it is so very shocking. To me too. I think I will overcome it completely someday. Especially now that I have prayer and faith and trust in my life.

Just the same, you are safe! When I am angry at writing, I write

Susan said...

Update. The mother, Ms. Michelle, sent me her phone number so we could talk. Wow. She is an incredibly positive woman who did not make an upset and angry white woman into a racial issue. I told her I understood her coming out protective of her daughter, and she was happy that I understood and readily accepted my apology. In truth, my friends. this entire incident now seems God meant/sent--one of those sweet lessons in living that turns a life around. Thank you all for the support. I will never forget.