I went running yesterday as part of the "Let's Do Better"campaign. Today, I am hobbling around like a chimpanzee. However, I am told that pain is gain, so my grimace is laced with optimism.
Anyway, I'm jogging along my usual path along the river in 90 degree heat, when I pass three women walking towards me wearing traditional Islamic garb. They had on the hijab and jilbab - a head scarf and full robe, so that only your face is showing, as dictated by the Qur'an. (Before you get impressed, yes, I Googled all that.)
It was an unexpected sight in my corner of the world, but shouldn't be treated as such. And I am so sensitive to discrimination that I worry I go too far in the other direction. Like shaking someone's hand extra hard or snorting at a lame joke, just to show "we're all one people."
So, when I saw these three Muslim women walking along the path, I evaluated my choices.
1. Ignore them to show, Hey! No biggie!
2. Smile at them to show I respect them (but is that over-eager?)
3. Turn around and run away.
Luckily, on the first pass, my choice was made for me. I have the luxury of transitional lenses, so they couldn't see my eyes looking away behind my glasses. But it didn't matter, because I was focused on the pretty little starbursts floating in front of me.
However, when I turned around and ran the other way, there they were. Feeling like an idiot, I looked up, made eye contact with the one on the end, and smiled. She smiled back.
It was a nice moment. She wasn't judging me for running around in shorts with my muffin top jiggling out, and I wasn't judging her for wearing all black on a hot summer day.
My thoughts turned to a movie I had seen with my daughter the night before. We joined 170 other women and girls for a screening of Girl Rising (http://girlrising.com/), a movie that depicts the impact of education on girls in third world countries. One of the themes of the movie was that while there wasn't hope for the adults in those countries, the children still had a chance.
I disagreed. I think, I HOPE, that grown-ups can always find a way to do better, and to prevail. Granted, I can't compare my life to that of a family living in squalor, surviving on scraps found in a landfill. I will never know that type of suffering, nor will I ever be able to comprehend it. What I am referring to is the human spirit, that thing that keeps you digging in the dirt, pushing forward when the world is pushing back even harder.
I was riding that high, thinking about that lofty goal, when I logged on to Facebook. Here is what was posted by a resident on my neighborhood's group page:
Neighborhood watch. On May 15 at one thirty in the afternoon, I saw a tall (six foot three) mulatto man walking west on Forest Pond drive. His hair was short and he had a trimmed beard. He wave at me and I waved at him. He was carrying a small green box in his hand.
Dear God, call the troops.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I thought about my niece and nephew. Two absolutely beautiful, amazing children, who have a white mother and black father. I called my sister-in-law and asked her, "How do you feel about the term mulatto?" I was told immediately and without pause that she and her husband did not care for it AT ALL.
So, I replied to the post, just behind my friend who, having my back, posted as well.
My Friend: "I'm just curious, why was this cause for concern?"
Me: "Coming from a mixed race family, I am trying to understand where the concern is? Is it possible he lives here or was visiting someone? Also the term mulatto is not widely accepted."
Four people "liked" my comment, but here is the response I received from another resident:
Neighbor: "I would be concern if it were not a familiar face, mulatto, green, white or black, walking around our neighborhood. We have a sign in from of the neighborhood NO SOLICTORS. Lived in New Bedford for 27 years and am cognizant of anyone walking around that I don't know and still don't know all my neighbors. Caution is good thing. I don't know (name withheld), but appreciate his concern. Caution is a good thing."
When I saw this response, I evaluated my choices.
1. Ignore him so I don't stoop to his level.
2. Correct his usage of "concern" and "from" and spelling of "solicitors."
3. Remind him that it is not easy being green.
As of this moment, I have picked #1. Not because I am afraid of a fight or am complacent, but because Rome wasn't built in a day. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I can't assume that this is a case of racial profiling. What I CAN assume is that neither of these neighbors, who happen to be white, have ever been black men. So, they can't understand what they don't know. And I will continue to voice MY opinion until my brother-in-law isn't afraid to walk down his own street at night in his own neighborhood, for fear of the police being called.
And yes, I realize that I have never been a black man, either. However, I have discovered a DNA test for 99 dollars that can tell me if I have ever been a black woman. And I can't wait to find out. Because, in truth, on the outside, we may all look different, but our innards are the same. How wonderful would it be to spend more time acknowledging our sameness, rather than our differences?
Until next time, keep crowin' and caring.