If my experience yesterday is any indication of how some people and things never change, I feel bad for some people and hopeful that the future is not as dim as I sometimes think.
I had just pulled up to pick up one of my sons at football practice. Several teams occupied the field and his practice wasn’t quite done. So I sat there waiting in my care when another car pulled up and parked next to me to my left. I turned and smiled at the elderly woman in the car. She looked at me and turned away. I don’t like wasting smiles but I’m not gonna hold it against you either.
A few seconds later, another car pulls up on my right. A younger woman with at least one kid screaming in the back of her SUV. I turn to her, hesitate for a moment and flash her a hesitant smile. With a look of frustration on her face, she reciprocates then jumps out of her vehicle and proceeds to unbuckle her child. I love it when people smile back. I’m a simple man.
I return to the business of minding my own space and time when I notice that the old lady to my left has exited her car as well and is staring at me. Awwwkward! She sees me looking at her then makes a production of lifting her arm, extending it with her keys in her hands and I hear the chirp of her car alarm and the locks clicking. All the while she doesn’t take her eyes off me. She turns and walks away. Someone call the weird and at large police!
To my right, the young mom has her child safely tucked and buckled into a stroller. She slams the car doors, looks at me again and says, “Kids!” She smiles again and walks away when I notice that her car windows are down. I watch her walk away and realize that the old lady is walking back towards her car.
Once again, she is staring directly at me. As the younger woman approaches her, the older woman stops her, says something inaudible to her and points at her car. I’m guessing she’s advising her that her windows are down and that there is a strange guy sitting in his car nearby. The younger woman shrugs, says something in reply, then continues walking in the opposite direction.
I feel a bead of sweat forming on my brow and over my upper lip. The older lady walks back to her car, unlocks it and fumbles around inside before she stands straight up again, this time with her purse over her shoulder. She looks at me again, locks her car twice then pulls on the door handle for good measure. She walks a few steps away from the car when I hear the chirp of the alarm one last time and it is then that I realize that I’ve been labeled. I’ve been profiled. And I’m offended. Almost offended.
In Samoa there is a saying:
E lafulafu a tama seu gogo
[The gogo (ngo-ngo) hunters are unattractive]
The saying refers to a hunting party that went into the rain forest to hunt the gogosina (white tern), an elusive and rare bird species native to Samoa. While hunting in the forest the hunters became wet, their appearance became rough but their hunt was a successful one. As they returned from the hunt a group of young girls made fun of the rough looking, disheveled hunters and shunned their advances.
After grooming themselves, the hunting party returned to the village that shunned them. The villagers quickly realized that it was a royal party and among them, was one of the most handsome, available bachelors in all of Samoa whose other mission besides the hunting, was to find a bride. It was his turn to shun the advances of the young Samoan ladies.
I’m not royalty and I’m not handsome even after I clean up which baffles most people who see me and Super Mom stand side-by-side. It is a literal beauty and the beast moment. What I can say is that the woman who parked to my right and left her windows down without locking her car did not judge my rough appearance nor did she question my character. The woman to my left, on the other hand, immediately made an assumption based on my outward appearance and made a point to put me, a stranger, on notice.
I could make it a race issue and have a viable case. I could make it a story about my color, my ethnicity or my people but I won’t. What this tells me is, there are all kinds of people out there and I will not let them decide who I am or how I will react. I know who I am and whom my parents raised me to be. Your preconceived notion about who I am speaks volumes about who you are.
Don’t be that woman/man.
Heal the world, make it a better place. For you and for me and the entire human race ~ Michael Jackson