A Passing Reflection On Race

“Ha-chew,” was the noise the elderly woman made as she hurled a wad of spit at my husband and me. Luckily for us, she had bad aim.

Living in New York City, the experience left me more puzzled than angry (after all, this city does seem to breed nutty folks the same way a fine kennel breeds top Welsh corgis.) That was my reaction until I saw the look on my husband’s face: pensive coupled with a touch of seething. Seeing the bewildered look on my face, he began to enlighten me to the complete situation that had just transpired.

“I guess I reminded her of a Nazi solider,” he replied. You see, my husband is German (complete with the stereotypical blond hair, and the Schwarzenegger jawline and physique that documentaries are made of) and the elderly woman appeared to be Jewish. While this experience was new to me, it had happened to him before.

Being a couple from different ethnic groups (he’s German and I am Black,) I am definitely not naïve to some of the “worldly” views on our being together. In fact, I’ve become a bit desensitized to the usual comments that we get – mostly from black women on the street. Phases like, “sell out” and “traitor” are very popular. Fascinatingly enough, few, if any, Black men have ever made comments to us. Maybe I’m clueless, but I would think, keeping the usual complaints from Black women in mind of how few Black men there are to go around, that the ladies would be pleased with my choice of a partner – seeing that there should be more Black men available for them! Oh well, you can’t please everyone.

This incident, however, with the elderly woman that occurred some years ago (circa 1991) when my husband (my boyfriend at that time) and I were just dating, was different. This woman didn’t seem to care about our different ethnicities; her main interest was that he was German. The focus was not on “us” it was on “him.” It was a real eye opener for me because my logic was then, and still is now, “Darn, the guy was born in the 1960s, cut him some slack!” I guess it’s not that easy.

I cannot imagine the deep hurt and pain that the woman felt. Sighting her reaction and the numbers inked into her forearm, I would guess very deep. Still, I have to ask myself, is her hurling spit at every German-looking man she sees really the answer? Is it right to blame an individual for the actions of another? A very close friend of mine, who is Black, was mugged and slashed in the face many years ago by five white guys. He said then, and maintains to this day, that he can’t stand “five white guys, not all white guys.” He recently told me that he has completely forgiven them. He said that it was more for his sake than theirs. Is my friend the exception and not the rule? Isn’t his reaction the way we, as civilized human beings, are suppose to respond in such situations? Tough questions, I guess.

I was blessed to not only grow up around people of different ethnic backgrounds, but more importantly, I had friends from many different ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps I’m a dreamer, but I have to pose the same question that Rodney King did, “Can’t we all just get along?” It deeply saddens me to see the thick ethnic and cultural (I don’t use the word racial because I firmly believe that there is one race, the human race) divide that we still have in this country and worldwide – even with the historic election of U.S. President Barack Obama. The N-word is still used by more than just rappers. Is there an end in sight? I hope so. I am also troubled when people only seem to mention the situations that occur between Blacks and whites, leaving so many other groups out of the picture. I personally would be very insulted if I were Asian, Hispanic, Native American or a member of any other overlooked cultural group!

Sometimes I think of that elderly woman and I wonder if she has transferred her apparent hatred of Germans to her children or grandchildren. I wonder does she still walk down the street spitting on anyone that has strong German features or was her reaction to my husband the exception. I wonder if speaking to her and saying that while I sympathize with her that I could never fully empathize (no matter how much I might try or want to) with her for different reasons. I also cannot condone her actions, no more that I could if my husband held a disregard for someone Jewish. Wrong is wrong. Some things are black and white, not gray!

I also do not understand the reaction that many Black women give my husband and me. I don’t know what experiences that they are bringing to the table, which make them respond to us in the manner that they do. I do not understand why many of these same women (women who constantly glorify the role of mothers push for golfer Tiger Woods to praise his late father (who was Black), yet want him to totally dismiss his mother (who is Thai). Maybe, some of them, like the elderly woman have sincere issues attached to their responses, many I feel don’t. Still, my response to them both is the same.

I don’t know what the answer is for the elderly woman, for the various Black women that seem so appalled at seeing us together, or to any of the many others struggling with these hatreds. I personally believe that a huge part of it could be healed with the age-old principle of treating someone the way you would like to be treated yourself. It’s simple, but it says it. Still, practicing it seems to be something else.

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