Tonight I stood on the street corner down the road from my house with a small group of people, holding a sign that read Black Lives Matter. These past few months of quarantine, my preschool-age son and I have walked through that intersection multiple times a week on the way to the park or to get coffee. When I saw on Instagram that people were gathering so close to my home, I was eager to join them.
When I arrived a little after 5:00, the organizer was already there. She welcomed me with a huge smile, and directed me to a place where I could stand. Her instructions were to smile, wave if I wanted to, and most importantly to be friendly. It was rush hour and we were at one of the busiest crossroads in our town. It felt like everyone was out. Couples on dates. People driving home from work. Parents transporting kids to activities. Teenagers hanging out.
Many people waved or honked their horns in support as they passed. There were several thumbs up. There was a lot of positivity. And of those who didn’t feel so positive, they just pretended we didn’t exist. They stared straight ahead, their knuckles white on the steering wheel. Some would begrudgingly shake their heads back and forth, their mouths turned down at the corners. I felt kind of bad for them—they looked so unhappy, as if it was physically painful to be so focused on ignoring another person’s existence.
About 30 minutes into what felt like mostly thumbs up and enthusiastic honking, a white Audi pulled up to the curb in front of me. The window rolled down and a white man that looked to be in his sixties or seventies waved me over. He was wearing a kelly-green golf polo and looked as shiny as the wax on his car. He was smiling, and I was too, so it kind of surprised me when the words he spoke to me were, “Honey, you might as well be raising money for the Democratic party.”
I took a beat to understand that despite his warm tone, what he was saying to me was not meant to be sweet. I rocked back a little, letting “honey” wash over me as I realized I was being admonished. By this man I’d never seen before in my life. The light was about to turn green. Seriously, what was I supposed to say to him in those passing milliseconds? So, I assured him I’d be okay if he was right. His smirk turned to a scowl, and he waved his hand dismissively and shouted, “Oh you would be,” as he sped off around the corner.
Oh I would be!?
Look, mister, you don’t know what I would or wouldn’t be. When I told the group I was with what had happened, they encouraged me not to let someone like him keep me from being out there. The truth is that someone like him is exactly why I was out there.
After the oily dust of his Audi had settled, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. What made him think he had the right to boss me around like that? I thought about my dad, a man about the same age as this driver-by, who would want me to do what was right. What I wish I’d said to this stranger’s patriarchal condescension was something like, “Well, my Republican father is proud of me.” Or maybe, “You’re too late, another white man already raised me to think for myself.”
On top of that, my mom taught me that if I don’t have anything nice to say, to keep my mouth shut. There’s a lot of division and differing opinions in our country right now. I’m not naïve—I know that there is a right and a wrong side. I’m not suggesting we all just get along. Words will need to be said. Toes will feel stepped on. For lasting change to happen, one side will have to forfeit or lose. Wrong will have to be made right.
Tonight, my desire to see what I believe is right become a widespread value led me to the busiest intersection in my town. I know I have friends, family members, and people I dearly love who don’t feel that way. I also know that those people love me in return and understand me in deep ways. They would never roll down their window at a busy intersection and try to discourage my stand for justice with a political side issue.
Wherever you sit, whatever it is you feel you need to stand for, truly stand for it. No matter what side of an issue you find yourself, you are responsible for the manner in which you use your voice. Don’t use the timeframe of waiting on a red light to lecture a stranger you’ve never met before. Don’t slip into the comments of someone’s social media account, or whisper about them behind their back.
Go for a walk. Ask them to lunch. Make a list of things about their life or their worldview that you’d like for them to tell you more about. Let’s be honest, if you don’t have at least one thing about their life you’re wondering about, then you’re seeking a conversation for the wrong reasons.
Speak up. Step out. Take the time to listen.
And unless it’s actually their name, do not call them “honey.”7