Whistling in the Dark
I watched the movie Crash last week. I had heard so many great things about it and it did, indeed, actually live up to the hype in many ways, something I find rare enough. There are, if you haven't seen this movie, several storylines going on at once, some intertwining, some merely occuring on the same day. In one storyline, an affluent couple played by Brendan Frasier and Sandra Bullock are carjacked. In the aftermath, talking to the police, the husband paces the floor, then stops and says something I recognized, "Why did they have to be black?"
For his part, he says this because he is the DA, and sees it impacting his relationship with the black community and his chances for reelection. When I thought the same words last winter, I was also worried about my relationship to the black members of my neighbourhood and my city, though it had nothing to do with elections. I was worried that a small, instinctive part of me would start shying away from any group of black men or boys in baggy clothes after having been mugged. And every once in a while, it does.
Libraries are open late. In the winter, this means it is pretty dark when I find my way home on the evenings I'm on the late shift. Now I live in a nice, middle-class, fairly peaceful neighbourhood. I've lived there since I was five and, though I am always vigilant as any city-dweller is, I've never had any trouble. I work with kids and teens, which means I am used to a certain amount of horsing around among them, racing about like fools being not uncommon. Put those together, and it leads to this - when I was walking home one night, about a block and a half from home, I didn't think anything of it when I heard a group of feeet racing behind me - I just stepped slightly to the side to let them go by. I seem to recall even smiling to myself about the high spirits and goofiness of young boys.
And then I hit the ground. Pushed sharply from behind, I instinctively tightened my grip as I fell, and then I was being dragged by my bag, one of the three figures I could see pulling me along by the other handle. I swore at him and started to get up, having skidded to a halt. He let go, and the jolt popped my little bag of important stuff (wallet, primarily) out of my big bag. He reached back and grabbed that, out of my reach as it was, and took off after the other two who had moved on pretty quickly. I stood up, brushed off my hands and knees, and looked around me.
Two girls were walking towards me on the next block up, engrossed in conversation. They didn't notice a thing, it was clear. No one else was around. I seemed okay, and there seemed no reason to hang around there, so I walked home. On the way, I discovered to my great relief that my keys were in my pocket. Misterpie called the police, who came and talked to me, bringing my wallet devoid only of cash and a card or two of little import that had been missed as the scattered contents were picked up by a dog walker they met on the way up my walk. I gave them the info they needed, knowing it would never amount to anything, and it was over.
I had scrapes and bruises on knees, hands, and one hip, a sprained thumb, and a pulled shoulder, but those things would heal over the next month. Worse was the mental bruising. I was angry - this was my neighbourhood, dammit! I never had any trouble in three years in New York, only to be robbed in fucking Riverdale?! I was both relieved and scared, for at the same time came reports of two sexual assaults in our area - it could have been so, so much worse, I felt I was lucky in that it was those three and not the solo attacker whose victims had so much more to deal with. But now I didn't really want to walk home at night. This too, mostly passed in about a month, as no more attacks were reported and it seemed that the man they later caught had decided to lay low for a while. It angered me again, though, that I should feel discomfort walking in my own neighbourhood - being robbed of that for a time far outweighed the $60 or so I lost that night.
But I worried about the longer-term. Every once in a while I notice an extra vigilance on my part when I see a small gaggle of similarly dressed young men of colour. I hate that a small part of me does that now. Is this how it starts? How older people start to lose touch with younger people, how people of different cultures start to eye each other with suspicion? I loathe that tiny subconscious corner that flashes back to being run down and robbed by three men who have in all likelihood never met or heard of the ones in front of me. I hope one day to notice pleasantly that the tiny spark of fear has burned out and I can stop worrying if it makes me a tiny bit racist to feel that twinge in a deep place I have little control over.
I hope too that I am wrong about winter - for as September approaches, I wonder and I worry that I will again be just slightly afraid to walk home after dark has fallen. And if I am? I hope that in spring I will feel relieved to have passed the winter without incident, feel myself let out a breath that I didn't even know I was holding. I hope that, should I find I need it, it brings that archteypical rebirth of my strong spirit, quake-free and walking proud among my many and varied neighbours, whatever their appearance.