Friday, July 30, 2010

Hatred in the Aisles

My still quick reflexes for an old fart kept my legs from mangling by a cart in the Roslindale Stop & Shop a short time ago. It was not propelled idly by an inattentive shopper or even a helpful, but too short, kid. Instead a hostile, angry and racist older black woman came right at me.

Sure enough, we forget or at least compartmentalize when we don't have to deal with obvious racists regularly. After 21 years in Jamaica Plain and one here in Hyde Park — both very racially and culturally diverse Boston neighborhoods —I don't experience or witness much of that.

There was no question this woman wanted to hurt me and why. I was a couple of feet from the front of my cart, ready to load in some greens. The cart was against a veggy display. She cut across about six feet of tile, veering hard left directly toward me, leaving me no exit and no way to avoid her.

First she glared and sneered as she aimed at my legs. I dipped into my t'ai chi background to touch the front of her cart as it came into contact with me and divert it just enough to keep it from smashing my legs.

That further enraged her and her racism became obvious. She swore about white people and said they were always pushing around black folk. She remained furious.

The three women with her, ranging from perhaps 50 to 17 were likely a daughter and granddaughters. They sort of looked down, but it was quickly obvious that this was not new behavior by the matron of the family.

Trying to give granny an out, I said pleasantly, "God bless you." In return, she literally spit back, "No, God bless you!" as a clear curse. They left and I could hear her continuing to defame white people.

I did get an odd chuckle of recognition though. A black friend from way back had warned me of angry, elderly black women. The stockier they are, he'd say, the more evil their evil eye and the more likely they'd be willing to have at someone verbally and physically. This crazed shopping lady was exactly what he'd warned me to avoid.

Of course, like the good UU I am, I look for the lessons here. I not only ask my three lads what they can learn from an unpleasant experience or error, I ask myself.

First, I'm glad I could retain my equanimity. She was spoiling for a physical and verbal confrontation and literally bruises and blood. She picked the wrong white guy for that.

Next, I do recognize home-turf advantage. The American Legion Highway store is patronized and staffed almost entirely by African Americans. It's much more comfortable for racists to act out when they perceive they are the norm. I rather doubt she would have pulled the same antics in the Dedham S&S.

Moreover, I felt for the trio with her. It has to be tough to regularly accompany a bigot, kind of watch out for her and be associated with her acting out.

Regionally, I regret how the allegedly liberal and open Boston area still has its onerous share of racists, of all races themselves. When I moved from the South first to New Jersey for high school, some time in Cambridge in college, a decade in Manhattan and the past three decades here, I was initially surprised at the racial tensions and negativity in Yankee lands. Yet in all those places, the locals were quick to scold me for my Southern roots, contrasting them to the enlightened Northern places. They seemed truly oblivious.

I found again and again that this was naive or disingenuous or both. Boston as a whole has never gotten over its own sordid history and racism and largely segregated sub-neighborhoods.

Here today I found that old brick back in my bag. It wasn't the classic North End teen slurring passing black Bostonians. It wasn't even snooty Brahman remnants running down others on race, class or schooling. It was an old bigot with absolute no reason to dislike me, feel threatened by me or certainly feel justified in physically and verbally assaulting me.

I would wish her peace and freedom from hate. However, she's likely rounding off her life and may simply be who she is for the rest of it.
Well, God bless her, regardless.

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