I had a dream last night. As I said in my last post, what I am calling the “Hendrix Incident” left my conscience singed from the moment I saw the countenances and body language of students leaving the classroom. I struggled over the next couple of days and then after processing it fully, determined to arrange a time for an apology. I was already on the way to Hendrix when VP Baoua called, asking me to come in.
In my dream, I was sitting as a student in a class room, beside an elderly black woman. I’m pretty sure it was the same woman I interviewed in Selma a couple of summers ago: Mrs. Joyce O’Neal, at Brown’s Chapel AME. Anyway, as she and I were sitting there chatting about our past visit, a white man came in, greeted a few people and then went to his seat. Although he was in my dream, he was, like Mrs. O’Neal, a person I know in real life. But he is someone I respected in the past and then lost that respect for in more recent years. As he sat down, he made a casual joke to the person next to him. The joke included the N-word. Mrs. O’Neal and I heard it, and as I felt anger boiling in me that he would be so callous, or just stupid, dear Mrs. O’Neal was sobbing next to me. I could tell that she was re-living her experience as a 16 year old girl, watching her adult friends and family coming into the church from the march at the bridge, with bones broken and bloody clothes. To say it was traumatic for her is not enough. She was scarred by her teenage experiences to the point that it was hard to tell the story many decades later when a white guy on a bmw motorcycle came inquiring, seeking understanding. As she was sobbing in the classroom, I was enraged that the Jackass would use that word which brings with it so much pain, especially to a friend. I couldn’t console Mrs. O’Neal and I couldn’t get Mr. Jackass to understand the depth of what he did. He kept saying, like I have, “I didn’t mean to insult HER; I would never do that.” He just simply didn’t get it.
I woke up. I remembered the 2 Samuel 12 account of Nathan telling a story to King David that paralleled David’s greedy sin with Bathsheba. David was enraged that a man would do what Nathan described and shouted “Who is this man?!
7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?2 Sam. 12
But I get it more than I did. I understand that regardless of whether I intend to insult or humiliate or not, singling people out because of color, using the N word – at all – or taking any action that points to a person’s ethnicity with anything other than respect, is more hurtful than I can comprehend as a white guy. I might as well have moved the students to the back of the class as to the front to be looked at. However unintentionally, I became the guy telling Mrs. Parks to move. I hate that. I regret that. I’m sorry for that.
I’ve learned from that. The guy smiling in the picture above is likely as ignorant as me as to the pain Mrs. Parks is hiding behind her smile in the picture. I have tried to understand over the years, and it took this to beat something into that I’ve been seeking. Understanding. Empathy
I’ll keep working on it, and I hope people will forgive me next time I screw it up again. Sadly, that seems to be how I learn. I wish I could do more than words now.