So, I’m in Idaho. That’s where my lovely new job has sent me on my first assignment. Everyone has made jokes about potatoes. I have given everyone who’s mentioned them the confused puppy look. My thoughts went instantly to white supremacists, skinheads and underground nuclear warheads. That would have been a fun game of word association.
Well, with hate crimes on the brain, I sit next to an Arab gentleman on the airplane. He is reading the Koran. My first thoughts, honestly…ashamedly: “Oh f*cking-sh*t! For the love of God!” (I know those 2 sentiments don’t exactly go together, but it’s that kind of day.) I have never claimed to have lived 34 years in this racist society and gotten by unscathed. As embarrassed as I was, I was also scared beyond belief. Then, he kept staring at me. I was watching him in my peripheral vision. He would snap his head forward every time I would turn to see what the hell he wanted. This didn’t make me any more at ease. I’d also start plotting the perfect position to curl into so that I’d feel the least amount of pain when we crashed to my death each time we hit pockets of unbelievable turbulence. My pessimism is on full blast today.
While I was waiting for the hotel shuttle at the airport, I thought about all of the horrible things I could be falsely accused of out here and how no one would believe me and then I’d have to call the Boise police, which was certain not to go well for the black girl, so I’d just keep quite and succumb to whatever injustice befell me just to avoid making waves. It doesn’t help that all day I’ve been reading Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon which revisits life in America for blacks in the 1st half of the 20th century. Sigh.
From the plane I send the following text message: “Oh man! I’m the only person with bigot of color up on this plane. I feel like I’m going to a Klan Rally. Pray for me!” Freudian slip: bigot was supposed to be a bit. Who’s the bigot, right?
It has been a very sobering day. Fear is powerful. Today I have experienced how easily it becomes a lens that distorts. I see how difficult it can be to convince someone looking through that lens that they aren’t seeing what they think they are seeing. The truth is that everyone in Idaho has been as friendly as anyone anywhere else. (And much more friendly than what I encountered in Minnesota.)
I’ve only met one person from Idaho in my life. I was teamed up with him in a small group and I made the same assumption about him that I made about everyone else in this state, that he’d hate me. He was such a nice guy. We hung out that weekend I spent in Seattle a year and a half ago. We actually had a chance to talk about the assumptions we made about each other and how glad we were (and embarrassed) to find out that our assumptions were wrong. I realized that my assumption that he’d hate me only served to justify my prejudice towards him. I wish I’d remembered that earlier today. It would have been a much better flight.
OK, there you have it. I suck sometimes too. Prejudice is funky, from anybody. Even me.