I found Robert Simon’s commentary insightful (“I’m a black cop. Here’s how recent events and reactions look to me,” July 19), and I welcomed his perspective. One point he made jumped out at me, though — that it’s an example of racism when white people stand rather than sit next to him on the bus.
Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. How do we know? As a white woman, there are plenty of times people have chosen to stand rather than sit next to me. I, too, discriminate when choosing a seat. I prefer a seat to myself (don’t we all?) or to sit next to a skinny person. And I avoid sitting next to men (of any color) who keep their legs apart, extending beyond their half of the space. I have chronic pain. Physical contact with someone hurts.
That doesn’t mean I hate or fear overweight people or men.
There’s no denying racism exists. It’s ugly and it’s wrong. But motivations are complex, and I, too, have been angry — for being labeled racist when I wasn’t. If law enforcement is feeling painted with a broad brush these days, I can relate.
I once cut in front of a black woman waiting for a bank teller — not because I was racist, but because I didn’t see her. The bank was nearly empty; she was the only one in line. A line that ended three slots away from the only teller, who was right next to the door I’d just entered through.
I happened to arrive as the person the teller was helping left and mistakenly thought I was the only customer there. It didn’t help that I was distracted by pain from my health problems that day. Only after the teller started my transaction did the woman notice me and yell that I’d cut in front of her. Her screaming at me was the first I was aware of her.
I apologized. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t see you.” She screamed even louder that I was lying, that I’d cut past her because she was black and that I was racist. I was horribly embarrassed, but since the teller was halfway through the transaction, I let her finish.
I left, and the woman followed me out, screaming the whole way that I was a racist liar. I stopped and tried talking to her calmly, again apologizing and explaining what happened. She kept screaming. I gave up and walked away.
I forgave her. No doubt she’d experienced being intentionally slighted by people who were racist. Maybe she, too, was having a bad day. Maybe she didn’t normally scream at total strangers when they tried to apologize. Or maybe she herself was racist. Who knows?
But it hurt. I still think of that day when I need to remind myself to cut someone a little slack — and not to presume ill intent where perhaps none was intended. Which isn’t to say that racism doesn’t exist or that she didn’t have a right to be angry about it. I just wish she’d taken a deep breath and had a calm conversation with me, the human being standing before her, apologizing for my cluelessness, which had nothing to do with the color of her skin.
A month later, I accidentally walked off with some other shoppers’ grocery cart. They were angry, too, and yelled at me until I explained several times that I was in pain and didn’t mean to. They were two elderly white women. I’m equal opportunity when it comes to confusion on a bad day.
Some days, it feels like that’s where we’re at as a nation. A lot of confusion, and a lot of yelling.
I wish we’d all take a deep breath and have a calm conversation, which is why I appreciated Simon’s piece so much. These are complex problems that don’t distill well into sound bites or chants. And it’s not fair to pin all of these problems on law enforcement. Police are one segment of society, and these problems belong to all of us. No matter what color. Cop or civilian.
Let’s take a deep breath, and start listening. Calmly. Even to folks we disagree with. Maybe we can find some common ground, and some more peace.
Amy Harth lives in Brooklyn Center.