A chance encounter on a suburban sidewalk showed me that no matter how much we pat ourselves on the back for being a city with inclusive values, racism is a weed that sprouts wherever there is a favorable wind to spread its ugly seed, writes Katherine Pryor in a My Take essay.
I’VE consumed news rather sporadically since having twin boys in May. I get most of my updates from skimmed headlines and the occasional 4 a.m. read while coaxing a baby to sleep with one hand, my phone glowing in the other. When I saw the news about Charlottesville, I felt — like any good and decent person — saddened and horrified by events somehow transpiring in an America I thought had long since moved past racism by torchlight. Then I wiped baby spit-up from my chest and retreated to the business of keeping small humans alive in a city far removed from such violence.
Or so I thought.
On a recent outing, as I navigated a double stroller down neighborhood streets, a green Subaru slowed and pulled alongside me. The driver, a white, thirty-something man wearing a ball cap and sunglasses, leaned out the window, pumped his fist in the air, and shouted, “Go Trump! Segregate the schools!”
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I stopped the stroller in stunned silence as he sped away. Had that really happened? In broad daylight, on a sleepy neighborhood sidewalk in the city that prides itself as one of the most progressive in the nation? And — why me? Did he see my blond ponytail and my two white babies, and think, “Cool. She’s one of us.”?
I walked the rest of my route in a daze. The driver looked like any Seattle dad dropping his kids off at day camp, yet there was a hateful bigotry beneath his mundane exterior. Perhaps because it looked like our ancestors may have shared a boat over from Europe at some point, he decided to share that hate with me.
I found out the split embryo inside my uterus contained two boys mere weeks after last fall’s election, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to raise kind white men in the age of Trump ever since. We decided to raise our boys in Seattle, in part, because it seemed like one of the best places in the country to raise socially aware, openhearted children. Yet a chance encounter on a suburban sidewalk showed me that no matter how much we pat ourselves on the back for being a city with inclusive values, racism is a weed that sprouts wherever there is a favorable wind to spread its ugly seed.
One of the things that struck me in the Charlottesville coverage was the vague language used to describe the tiki torch-wielding marchers. “Alt-right” and “white nationalist” are far too gentle to describe those bitter men. With soft language like that, it’s no wonder their hate is flourishing. If someone carries a Nazi flag, why not call them by that name and evoke the evil my grandparents’ generation fought to abolish? If someone believes their white skin entitles them to a life of privilege, why not call it like it is? White supremacists, racists, and bigots are far less likely to enjoy being called by their more accurate names.
As a white person, it’s scary to talk about race — there are so many things we get wrong. Yet as I wheeled my sleeping babies toward the home I mistakenly thought was removed from the week’s headlines, I had to check my culpability. I thought it was enough to strive to be a good person who relishes the richness of our American melting pot. I see now that unless I stand to openly denounce racism when I see it, it’s far too easy for racists to assume that I — and people who look like me — support them. I do not. This was a small ugliness that could get lost in the sea of ugly filling the headlines. I don’t want it to be lost. I want a record that these words were said, and that I — and countless allies like me — disagreed.
I don’t know how I’ll teach my boys just how wrongheaded that man’s words were, but I hope I can raise them to call out evil when they see it, and to fight for something better.