Recently I was driving down a Hartford Street in my white red and blue paramedic response vehicle when I saw a single black man walking on the side of the road with a bicycle. He raised his middle finger emphatically and stared at me without smiling as I went past.
I was perturbed. I thought for a moment that I should pull a U-turn and confront him, asking why he gave me the finger. Me, of all people. I ran through a silly dialogue in my head where I gave my pro-black credentials (2 black wives (one current, one ex), 3 black kids (1 black, 2 biracial), a life-size standup poster of Obama with a Bob Marley tee-shirt on (“Hit Me with Music”) that has been in my kitchen since before Obama’s first inauguration. Plus I am currently enrolled in an anti-black racism class where I am learning a shit load I did not know about our history and what it means to be black in the US of A. Also, for twenty-five years I have served and cared for people in the predominantly black north end of Hartford. I have never worn a MAGA hat or buddied up to white supremists. I am friend, not foe.
I did not, of course, turn around and confront him. I did not because at 62 years old, I know enough to know that he likely wasn’t giving me the finger. He was more probably giving the finger to the Man, to the experience of being black in America that likely included personal experience of being treated badly due to the color of his skin rather than the nature of his character. I am speculating of course. Maybe I treated a family member of his who had a bad outcome or I cut him off in traffic as I raced lights and sirens to a call.
As a father I have, on occasion, experienced watching my daughters be treated differently based on the color of their skin. I gave my eldest daughter, who is the darkest, my credit card to pick up a computer at the Apple Store for her schoolwork. Not only did she not come back with the computer the store cancelled my credit card and called me up to see if it had been stolen. It took me all evening to get my card reactivated, and even then the store wouldn’t sell me the computer unless I came down and picked it up in person. A year later, my middle daughter who can pass for white, went through the same experiment at the same store. This time there was no problem. No credit card cancelation and she came back with a shiny new computer. I can only imagine what it might be like for a parent to be told their child was yanked from a vehicle and cuffed for doing nothing wrong other than being black. I think of all the times in my youth I had experiences with police, and never once was roughed up or treated unprofessionally. I have had it easy.
Listen to CNN’s Van Jones talk about what the election meant to him and not feel emotion.
My wife came home last night with as big a smile as I have seen on her in recent years. “I feel like a burden has lifted,” she said. “It’s like we can breathe again.”
She added, “And the woman is vice-president. Imagine that. Think of the girls now. What futures they can have.”
My wife was born in Jamaica. For many years she was a single mother, who worked her way through school first as a nurse’s aide, then a R.N. I attended her citizenship ceremony. The tiny American flag she held that stood stood for a dream and great promise, not for hatred or intolerance for those who are different.
With all the focus on Trump – Biden, a great story is Kamala Harris as a black woman, daughter of a single mother rising to the second highest office in the land. No small accomplishment.
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Everyone in my household went to the polls on election day. My youngest daughter, who is 12, accompanied me and stood at my side as I filled in my ballot.
I want a greater America for her and for her two sisters.
Peace to all. (Two Fingers).