I really did not have the intention of jumping in with an inaugural post about racism, but was at a local fast food restaurant this evening with my family for a playdate with my BFF and her niece and nephew, and witnessed an episode that I need to write about. This is a McDonald’s located about 40 minutes outside of a major Canadian city, in the middle-class to affluent town where I grew up from age 8 to 28. Now, back in the day, this town did not have very many inhabitants with black skin. In fact, at the high school I went to, my recollection is that there were probably about a dozen black students. However, that was over 20 years ago and while still primarily WASPish, this town has expanded its colour wheel and certainly has a far more visible community of black and multicultural citizens now.
Guess I should mention at this point (in case you didn’t notice already in my header picture) that my husband and I are white, my stepson is white and my daughter is black. We adopted her from South Africa almost 3 years ago, and in that time period, I have learned a LOT about white privilege and racism. I have encountered racism, both from white people and black people. I try to educate when I can, especially when my daughter is present and aware. However, tonight something happened at this McDonald’s that I found disturbing, with no opportunity to educate or otherwise.
We were sitting together with the kids, nearing the end of our meal and discussing relocation to the playland for some “tire ’em out time” for the kids, when suddenly a woman’s voice shouted “Get away from me, MURDERER!!”. My instant assumption was that a woman was at the playland with a child or children and her ex showed up. No idea why I made that assumption, but that’s where my mind went. Next we heard “Get out of here you DRUG DEALER! I’m sick of all of you on your cell phones!”. Now, at this point, my curiousity got the best of me, and I had to get up and look (we were in a section where all this action was occurring behind us). I stood up and quickly observed two things: 1) The woman screaming was 60 years old (I know this because she also shouted “I’m 60 years old and don’t need this crap!”), she was white and had no children or other people with her. 2) The person she was shouting at was a young, BLACK male. Uh huh. You got it.
So, instantly, my back went up. It was instinct. I had no idea if she knew this young man, or if he was indeed a drug dealer or a murderer, but I was immediately annoyed with this woman and made the assumption that SHE was making the assumption that the only reason she was accusing him of these monstrous crimes was because of the colour of his skin. And I didn’t like that.
As it turns out, I also overheard (ok, eavesdropped on the conversation) when the black man explained to the McDonald’s manager who came to investigate the commotion, that he had been waiting at the bus stop directly outside the restaurant and had been talking to a friend on his cell phone (presumably NOT a drug deal, and if so, he can’t be much of a drug dealer to be cruising the ‘burbs selling drugs via public transportation). The woman walked by and at that point, the man decided to drop in to the McDonald’s for a snack while he waited for the bus. He had the sad misfortune of following the lady in to the McDonald’s and as they entered, she turned on him and began her tirade. No doubt somewhere in the gallows of her narrow mind, a black young man talking on a cell phone and following her in to a McDonald’s is definitely the only criteria required to be a murderer and a drug dealer. Yup. She saw it on an episode of COPS once.
As the young man was explaining himself, another patron who had apparently also been outside at the bus stop, came up and validated his story to the manager. In the meantime, the crazy lady pulled out HER cell phone and proceeded to call the police (obviously not having any concerns that using her cell phone would indicate her employment as a drug dealer or killer of other humans). She then proceeded to erratically move from one table to another, sit for a few moments and move to a new table. She even came in to the playland while we were in there and peered up into the jungle gym/playscape where approximately 8 kids were running around and screaming. I can only assume she was searching the McDonald’s and the playscape for other hardened criminals lurking in the caverns of the local fast food restaurant during the supper hour.
We all agreed that this woman was not quite “right” (attempting to be politically correct here). In many ways, as far as I’m concerned. I did briefly entertain the idea of approaching the woman to discuss her accusations and inquire as to why she made them, but I will admit, I chickened out for fear that she would accuse me of horrible crimes and call the police on me. Too bad that poor young man didn’t have that choice. He didn’t have the opportunity to know that this woman could potentially explode at him for no other reason than her own racism.
At some point, we saw the woman walking outside, hopefully leaving. While we were in the playland, a number of black families arrived and were eating in the restaurant, many of them with children. Perhaps this was the woman’s motivation for leaving. Either way, I came away from this outing feeling very sad for the young man, but also sad for that woman, who saw a black man and didn’t think she had any other options but to assume he was a criminal. Thank goodness my daughter is only just 4 years old and didn’t see the man and hopefully didn’t hear or understand the woman’s words. My heart bleeds for the time when she will see exchanges like this and will instinctively know that the colour of that man’s skin was the reason why the woman thought he was a “drug dealer” and “murderer”. I only hope that by that time, we will have proven to her over and over and over again that we don’t think or act like that woman and that we don’t support that way of thinking or acting. That we love her beautiful black skin and love her BECAUSE of her skin, because it is a gorgeous part of who she is, and we wouldn’t want her any other way.
Sadly, in the deep, dark recesses of my parental paranoia, I sense that this might not be enough. Alternatively, I may need to reconsider my patronage to this particular McDonald’s, as this is also the place where last year, a dad in the playland, during a brief discussion about my daughter joining our family through adoption, asked me in all sincerity “Do you think her skin will lighten up as she gets older, so she will look more like you?”. Maybe this particular McDonald’s is just a secret meeting spot for some unknown racist club and I should just take my daughter to a different one? I wish. If only all the world’s racism could be confined to one simple bricks and mortar location…