In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
About a week ago, my sister’s mother-in-law wanted to visit a friend of hers. She described the location of the house; I had some idea of how to get there; and so we set out for a neighborhood that’s about five streets away from my house, lightyears away from my life. When we got there she said she wouldn’t be long, and I, fortified by enough reading material to last me three days at least, said I’d wait. After about an hour, auntie realized that she’d left her purse with me, and not wishing to make her wander around looking for me, I decided to wander around in search of her.
I got out of the car, headed down the street, exchanged hellos with the couple whose porch I passed, said hello to the next person I saw, got no response, and said to myself, “why are white people always so unfriendly?!” I continued down the street; found auntie; all the while thinking about what a suspicious character I might seem to be, dressed so differently from anyone who lived on this quiet side-street inhabited by the latest wave of European immigrants; (I often think when they stare at me that while they may look more like the rest of this country, I’m actually from here, (or as from here as you can be without having ancestors who may or may not have crossed a land bridge to get here). I have yet to follow this thought anywhere interesting…maybe you could?)
Back to my story. On finding auntie I handed her her bag, said hello to her friend, and headed back up the street. On the way, I noticed some interesting flowers which I’d never seen before. I stopped to admire them; wished I knew their name; and then continued on to the next house, where the unfriendly white man was sitting. He leaned a little forward to get a better look at me, but still said nothing. So I decided to initiate the conversation by telling him that his neighbors had a pretty front garden, and that he did as well. He continued to look at me blankly. Finally, he responded.
“Thank God!” I said inwardly, “It’s not one more dehumanizing experience at the hands of white people, after all.”
Next I felt ashamed. The poor guy had left his house and home; found a nice little neighborhood where everybody in a three block radius spoke his language; and here was I, venturing into his island of non-America, speaking at him incomprehensibly, and then judging him for not responding in a way that would be pleasing to me. White people aren’t always rude and unfriendly. Sometimes they just can’t speak English. So I indicated his garden, looked at him, gave him a thumbs up, and got two more English words out of him,
“You’re welcome,” and I continued to my car in a much better frame of mind, but still a little upset because of previous experiences of white Americans who speak English as a first (and often only) language who have made me feel like a bug in my own home. I came back to the couple I’d first passed on my way to auntie, and this time they struck up a conversation with me, and for the first time in the fourteen years I’ve been covering my face, the woman asked me an interesting question, “How long does it take you to put that on?” They saw me as human, and in doing so, reminded me that they were too. I chatted with them for a couple of minutes, and when we wished each other a nice day as I headed back to my car, I almost said to them, “Thank you,” but then I thought that maybe it’s insulting to thank a person for being civil, so I decided against it. So I’m thanking them now. As well as everyone else who’s ever brightened my day by simply treating me like a human being when so many have not. Thank you. Thank you all. You don’t know what a difference you make.