Wednesday, May 05, 2010

I dunno, but it has something to to with race.

I was walking my Sonny and Eve just the other day and something strange happened. i'm used to it. i get into strange conversations all the time and have random encounters walking around Lancaster. It's really quite fun and interesting! this recent encounter was not fun but it is interesting. first, some set up:

my dog Sonny is a 75lb greyhound who is really friendly. often when we're walking around he does this little side-to-side dance and pulls up his teeth in a "friendly smile." many people are put off by this as Sonny forgets that 2" fangs aren't endearing to humans. he's frightened many people on our walks so i try to avoid this as much as possible on our walks.

which brings me to our story for today: i was walking down the street and saw an African-American woman on her cell-phone sitting on some steps to my right. I notice Sonny start into his little "YAY! PEOPLE!" greeting dance and decide to push him over so he's walking on the curb, well away from the woman who is chatting away, facing the opposite direction. the last thing i wanted was her to turn around into a giant, gapping dawg maw. i mean do you really wanna turn and see THIS?! -->

so i pass the woman and hear her say something, but figure it's to the person who she's on the phone with. I walk a few more steps and she says, "I'm TALKING to you!" I glance back over my shoulder and she's staring right at me. I'm a bit shocked. so i say, "I'm sorry, I thought you were on the phone, you were talking to me?"

she states into her phone, "I'm gonna have to call you back." then to me, "Yeah. I SAID you too good to share the sidewalk with a black person?!"

i'm befuddled. i'm confused. i'm shocked. i don't get it. so i said, "Umm... no. I just didn't want him to startle you, you were on the phone after al..."


"?" my face says as I'm literally too stunned for words.... "I...."

"That is a stereotype you know." she states.

"Well... every black person I know has a dog save for one family, but they just moved in. That doesn't make any sense..." i reply.

"MMMM-HMMM.." She states with a head-wiggle and an angry look on her face.

i pause, she still looks pissed, i feel my flight-response kick in and i say, "well, i'm sorry for the offense. I didn't mean anything. you take care now." and i walk away.

She gets up and walks across the street, dialing on her cell phone.

i have no idea what happened here, but i'm pretty sure it has something to do with race. in hindsight i could have said, "Oh sorry, would you like to pet him?" or just launch into funny things about him and his stats like "he was a racer in Daytona Beach FL, rescued from Greyhound Welfare, he's 8 and really likes people. he also does this funny "roach" thing where i think he's beaming up the mother ship. This is my daughter Eve, she's 13 months, and what's your name?"

i read in YES! magazine how one youth program that focuses on race actually had to teach the youth the stereotypes so that they could then teach them how to overcome them. i thought this was really stupid and backwards, but after this encounter i think they might be right.

how would you responded? what was going on here? any insights? helpful responses?


Al said...

There is something to be said about preparing for a cross-cultural experience. You know, like going to the Congo or China or something. It helps you see the pitfalls before you fall into them.
And, we have many cultures around us here in the west as well.
So, I guess you could be right--learn about potential cultural faux pas before they can happen.

But, there are things you can't (or shouldn't have to) prepare for--someone who is going to take offense at just about anything, because they have learned to expect discrimination. (I don't expect any 'sensitivity training' would each you that the color of one's skin affects fear of animals.)

I guess all you can hope for is wisdom and quick thinking in order to defuse the situations that may arise--especially as a prospective pastor!

Anglican Gurl said...

As an African-American Woman, I am very troubled by this woman's actions. I know the stereotypes, believe me I deal with them on a daily basis, but that is not one of them.

You engaged the best you could. I do not know what my sister was thinking, but she took it out on you in ways that are both abusive and illogical.

Anonymous said...

I think I would of turned around and laughed...the whole stereotype thing with dogs is funny too. I know it was likely a tense situation (in some regards) - but I think I would of explained myself until my foot was completely stuck in my mouth.

Is this truly a learning experience? Not really. It was some lady having a bad day (most likely) and saw someone to kind of take it out on.

I think most people would be somewhat intimated by a dog that big - which makes this kind of funny.

RJ said...

Luke the old addage, "no good deed goes unpunished" comes to mind. sometimes, no matter how you try and how prepared you are, you still encounter folk who are either out of balance or having a shitty day or who knows what...

we have so much work to do with race relations but you can't fix trying to be sensitive with your dog if someone is going to find that offensive. god bless you, man.

queSaraSarah said...

I think that 1) she was probably having a rough day/other issues and 2) she probably has never owned a large dog. You learn quickly when out walking a large dog that way too many people will cross the street to avoid you... and you just start to cross over, or walk in the street so as not to inconvenience people in the first place.

Yael said...

I'm sorry such things still happen, but wow! What a great experience for you to have as you begin life as a pastor. I hope you never forget how you felt as you stood there.

Didn't you hate that stunned, helpless feeling, that no matter what you said or did, you were judged and found guilty? WTF, I was just walking along trying to be considerate and this is what I get in return? I don't even know what the hell just happened?

Always remember, never forget, how you were once a line in Torah.

Jacquie said...

ahh... people. gotta love us. We are ridiculous in many many ways. I am sure that in spite of all the questions I would want to ask: Are you assuming all tall skinny white guys are naturally bigots? or What is this really about? I probably wouldn't have said any of them. Because I don't think you could have said anything that wouldn't make it worse-- her assumptions are her assumptions. They may be wrong, but they are her perception, and without a long term or intentional relationship, I don't think any of that can be changed. I probably would have just said something like--'m sorry that I have offended you in ways that I don't even understand...and walked on And it probably would have ended poorly. But it's hard to know, because, since i am a woman, she may have perceived me differently anyway. In fact- as a short "non-threatening" woman, she may not have noticed me at all.
Blessings sojourner... thanks for touching on the hard issues as always (really-- I mean that).

Luke said...

thanks y'all.

this whole thing just confirms my sociological suspicion that those who want to feel offended will jump at any chance to do so.

Sabio Lantz said...

I have a black family in my neighborhood that prove that they aren't afraid of dogs. They train their pitbulls to attack right on their front lawn. They have friends wrap up in towels and then have their dogs, even though on a leash, attack them.

I live in a more open-minded neighborhood than you do!
Smile ! (cry) :-(