A strange thought took a walk through my mind this morning. I was on my way to the corner store for a trifle, walking carefully and purposefully. Mother Nature sent rain while Jack Frost had sent frigid air, coupled this equaled the major possibility that I would fall–in front of someone, of course. I made short work of my list upon entering the store then set back out on my way; the annoying buzz of the store’s fingerprint laden door heralding my departure.
I traveled back along the same path, now able to avoid the slippery patches. My eyes scanning every few feet ahead of me before returning to the now damp tops of worn fuzzy Ugg look-a-likes. I shoved my hands deeper into the pockets of my worn pea coat while taking another look ahead of me. A teen-aged, African-American male was trudging up the sidewalk opposite me.
It was obvious he was cold. His navy blue hoodie stretched from his hands burrowed within the front pocket. This act further tightened the small knot beneath his chin that kept the hood of the sweatshirt in place. He wore the typical khaki pants that those of public school age often don for their uniform here in Baltimore. His camel colored Timberland boots met the pavement with a thud, sending a small splash of sleet in front of him. The set of his shoulders conveyed his direct path along the right side of the sidewalk.
Somewhere in my brain algebraic calculations occurred, determining the exact moment our shoulders would meet along this path. My eyes then relayed the variable of x into the equation. This happened to be two uneven patches within the sidewalk where the sleet had puddled. More calculations followed. The answer was obviously to move to my left and step along the grass lining the sidewalk to avoid the puddles, an accident, and to allow the youth to carry along his path. In my mind, it was logical and hospitable.
Calculations and hospitable intentions determined, I moved aside and said, “Good morning.” I was not ready for the behavior or look I received. It was a mere flash. That moment when eyes lock and energy passes in some secretive physiological way that no one can really explain. You just feel it. This young man, as I imagine he has done a thousand times before, quickly surmised my path along the sidewalk. As I stepped to the side his eyes cut to me then down to the puddles I was avoiding before briefly nodding his head.
It was in that small nanosecond that it dawned on me. This youth was more than likely used to being the one to move when a random, seemingly white woman shared a sidewalk with him. His eyes seemed to scan the puddles to make sure they were there in front of me. Perhaps their reality substantiated my greetings and my act of stepping upon the grass. I was moving from the puddles; not him and the greeting was sincere.
Nothing more exchanged between us. He went upon his way and I upon mine. The only difference now was that my mind was picking apart what many would call a benign and uninteresting happenstance. My heart sank a little as I considered this youth walking silently in the cold. How many times a day does his mind have to work in such a way? And, how many times a day does he encounter a woman exactly as me in appearance and move when it is inconvenient to his trajectory?
It is strange to think this just dawned on me. I’ve known it all my life. I’ve seen it far too many times. My children, by government paperwork standards, are half-black, although; I don’t personally prescribe to the social constructs of race. I’m what many would call a liberal, a bleeding heart socialist and in many respects I most certainly am. I like to make decisions on content of character rather than melanin content of the skin. This youth had no way of knowing this about me, though. He had to rely on instinct, upbringing, and past social occurrences. In this instance–for me, I was simply a mother watching another mother’s son question his place upon the sidewalk and in life, in relation to a Caucasian.
As I carried on, my mind still analyzing a brief fleeting moment many would not have noticed, my heart recognized that I am not the only one wading through life’s chaos…
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