You know how you can be doing and feeling so good some times and then one seemingly little thing can bring you down?
I had one of those incidents not long ago. My wife and I were walking back from somewhere to our condo, down a fairly busy street in downtown Burbank. It was, as usual, a beautiful day in Southern California and my wife and I were enjoying the weather, our conversation and life in general.
As we neared one local movie rental shop, an older homeless woman, I think she is Anglo-American, a regular in this area and probably the only homeless person we ever see around Burbank, was camped out at a bus stop in front of the store. We didn’t think anything about her as we’d seen her before and though we knew her to be a bit grumpy, we knew she was harmless. So we kept on talking and walking on our path that would take us past her seat at the corner stop. To our complete surprise, she looked up as we were about to pass her and proceeded to yell quite loudly, “GET OUT OF HERE NIGGER! GET OUT OF HERE!”
Now imagine our shock. I hadn’t personally heard anyone call me that directly since I was in junior high in Texas during some racial strife at our school. The last thing I expected was to hear it on a street in Southern California, and from a homeless woman no less. It’s something when even a homeless person thinks they are better than any black person. You just have to shake your head sometimes. And the funny thing is Dianna thought the woman was talking to her, and Dianna is Mexican-American. So I’m still trying to convince Dianna the words were not meant for her.
Needless to say, Dianna and I kept on walking and didn’t stop to say anything to the woman. What would be the point? She is clearly a bit not right in the head and there would be nothng to gain. But I have to admit, hearing those words definitely shook us up a bit and its hard to get them out of your head. Dianna and I soon went back to our conversation but of course the incident has remained with us. In some ways, I think it was more upsetting to my wife than to me. I’m not sure Dianna has ever really heard the word used so forcefully and so negatively, and targeted so directly.
The old woman is still on the street and we have walked past her since, though we take a wide berth and avoid going directly in front of her if we can. Some might argue why let her get away with that, even causing us to alter our path in anyway. But I think this is one of those sitations where there is nothing to gain in dealing with a possibly mentally ill person. Were it a different individual and a different situation, no doubt we would take a different action.
But you know since that happened, I do ask myself, how whould I have responded if my kids had been present when the lady said something like that? In that case, I think I would have had no choice but to confront the lady directly, or a least say something back to her, not name calling of course, but some comment to let her know her words were stupid and uncalled for. And of course I would have had to have a conversation with the kids about her words and action. But since it was just me and Dianna…
But it does make me think that though we have warned our kids about the existence of stupid people out there, knowing that sooner or later, they will definitely hear something ignorant said about and to them, can it ever be enough to prepare you. Like I said, Dianna and I are older and wiser and we were still literally shocked to hear those words directed at us/me.
Oh well, I take the incident as a reminder that we have to stay aware that ignorance is still alive and well and that it exists everywhere. But it is still so disturbing to have something like that happen to you.