I grew up in a Black family in south Minneapolis. Unlike many Black parents, mine made a point of taking my younger brother, Taylor, and me on camping trips at least a couple times a year.
We'd rig up the old RV and boat and take off on fun adventures to places like Deer Lake, Duluth and Brainerd.
Now that I am much older, married and out of my parents' house, Mom's and Pop's empty-nester vacations have become more lavish than our old family camping trips. The RV has been replaced with sports cars, and camping trips have turned into holiday island excursions. But every summer my father still removes his boat from storage and invites my husband and me to spend a couple of afternoons on the lake.
Last year, in the early summer of 2020, my folks invited us to spend the afternoon on the boat at Lake Minnetonka. We'd done the same thing the prior year and had a blast. But this day trip to the lake, like every other normal activity in the past year, felt different.
Following the death of George Floyd, tension in the city was running high. Just being around people you didn't know made you wonder what side they were on, especially white people.
Under the Trump administration, people who were racist felt they had permission to act so. I recall so many stories plaguing the internet, news and social media with accounts of emboldened racist white people committing atrocities against Black men and women, boys and girls, with no remorse whatsoever. It was scary.
Patriotism and racism looked the same. The sight of a Trump sign, or an American flag for that matter, dug into my heart like an offense against my Black body, like someone saying, "You don't deserve to be alive."
It was impossible to feel comfortable. It was difficult to enjoy a sunny day with my family. It took effort and bravery to simply be.
While just 20 minutes from Minneapolis, Minnetonka is a relatively affluent area in Minnesota and there aren't a lot of Black people around, even at the lake.
Once we arrived at Lake Minnetonka, I walked down the dock in the loading zone with my family. At the edge of the dock sat a white family, also waiting to either load or unload their vehicle.
The dock was long, and had a buoyancy that made it feel like you were walking on water. With the white family on the other end, the presumed encounter with these people, during the upheaval occurring in our community, made me anxious. I felt like my whole family was anxious. Theirs, too.
They had been stationed on the right side of the dock so my family got settled on the left side. Here, my dad would unload the boat and guide it onto the lake. We'd tie off the boat until my dad parked his truck. Then we would head off into the waves.
Any other year I imagine our two families would have greeted each other. Someone would've said, "Hey there. What beautiful weather we're having today."
Minnesota Nice, right? But instead, it felt like each family was invisible to the other. No one made eye contact. No one said anything.
Just silence and ignorance. We ignored each other. We faced only our own perceptions. We filled the minds of one another with the preconceived hate and intolerance being displayed by our country. We punished each other and, in a way, we showed one another no mercy.
God blessed my family to enjoy a beautiful day on the water. But even after returning home, this brief encounter didn't leave me. It troubled me for a long time. It bothered me.
At first I was bothered because I had seen that family as racist, or at least responsible for the awkward moment that had ensued at our arrival. I figured it was the white family's responsibility to ease the tension of the situation by somehow signaling that they were not racist.
It was white people being so violent, so aggressive, so mean, so ignorant, so prejudiced, right? And the best they could do in that moment of encounter with a Black family was to pretend we didn't exist?
I was livid. I felt I was owed something that was being purposely withheld, for my personal torment.
It took me a while, at least a few months, to truly unpack the situation and come to terms with why this was bothering me so much. What could have been done to alleviate the tension?
Then I tried on the responsibility that I wish the white family would have assumed.
I considered my role as an emboldened, Christian Black woman and asked myself what I could have done in that moment.
Why didn't I speak up?
Why didn't I say something kind?
Why didn't I consider the misconceptions and preconceived notions that they might have about Black people because of the generational lies perpetuated in every aspect of their lives?
Why couldn't I consider their fear? And not fear of Black people, but fear from shame because of the atrocities that their people have been committing against my people?
What if their silence was bearing responsibility in some way?
What if they really didn't know what to say?
After all, I didn't know what to say.
To this day, I can't be sure of what could or should have happened, or was supposed to happen. But I do know that if I had spoken up, I would not have walked away disturbed by words untold and worlds vainly imagined.
Tiffany Johnson lives in Bloomington.