I just saw an incident that screamed “Racism is real!”, and I have to write about it!
I spent the weekend in New York City consuming feminist laced theater and feeling all the feels. Both my heart and mind were reminded how it feels to be moved so authentically it hurts. I laughed, cried, and shook from happiness. Good theater can do that.
Anyway, on my last Uber ride of the weekend, I witnessed something influential:
A white man is walking in the crowded street. He’s not paying attention. Our driver, an African male, stops short – inches from hitting him. The man slams his fist on the hood of the car and starts to scream “Hit me! Hit me!” Our driver rolls down the window and, from the white man, racists obscenities ensue – “You dirty African. Go back where you came from!” Our driver, becoming more enraged, suppresses his desire to fight and angrily drives away. People stand around watching. They’re pretending to mind their business.
I was sitting in front seat on the passenger side of the car. Basically, they were fighting over me. Honestly, I was scared and mad and shocked. I’ve seen racism. I’ve read of racism. I concur white privilege and institutionalized racism is real and rampant. I was (of course) appalled.
What happened next made this experience more than just infuriating but meaningful.
Our driver was furious (his words) and he said if it were only him he would have gone out and fought him. Not because he wanted to fight, but so that the man wouldn’t get away with it. He explained that because he didn’t react he was sure that man would do it again to someone else – he wanted to teach him he was wrong. He said that by not reacting he set an example for everyone who was watching. He felt like sent the message that that it was okay.
I wondered, “What would I do in this situation?”, “How would I react?” It quickly occurred to me that I will, likely, never have to endure something like this. That’s how you know your privilege is real.
When I was a kid, I learned to ignore bullies. If they don’t get a rise out of you, they’ll stop. Today I learned a more important lesson. Advocacy doesn’t have to be colorful or grandiose. And, it doesn’t have to occur just on one day or because the circumstances dictate “today is a day of service”. Small actions add up and can make a big difference. We will all experience moments the infuriate us – it’s how we respond and our intentionality that could influence others. I am confident there’s a lot we can do to teach each other, to impact each other.
This isn’t my story – not really. But, as a bystander I have a chance to make this right. Advocacy is everyone’s job. What I saw today was something I wish I could call unbelievable. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Our world – cluttered with systematic racism (all the other -isms too!)- is disappointing and dreadful. The prospect of change feels hopeless. Nobody knows how to fix it.
I know this though, sometimes we’ll learn our most important lessons from a (not so) typical Uber ride in New York City.