Calendars everywhere are reminding me that February is Black History Month. So, here is a bit of my black history, one from the collection that I fondly call my “Oh, that’s right! I’m black!” stories.
And what do you mean by that, Darla?
Well, there are times when, for various reasons, my skin color becomes part of a conversation. Generically speaking, I am black. My skin is a dark caramel color that becomes a coffee-with-a-bit-of-cream by the end of summer, if I’m out in the garden as much as I like to be. But society summarizes me as a black person, for all intents and purposes (whatever those may be).
I love the color of my skin. When I was a child and received ridicule for my skin color, my mother would console me by saying something like “Oh, Dee Dee, they’re just jealous. You never have to worry about the color of your clothing, like they do. Everything looks beautiful against your skin.” That would soothe me until the next time, when Mom would get creative again.
The best thing she ever said to me, after a classmate had stabbed me in the heart with her words, was “She is pitiful. Pity that child, Dee Dee.” And I did. Dear Nancy. I’ll never forget her. We became friends after I punched her. I got invited to her home, and I pitied her mother for looking worried as I climbed into her daughter’s blow-up swimming pool.
But black, and all that the word entails for our society, no longer defines who I am. I would be offended more if you called me a dirty Christian than I would be if you called me a dirty nigger. Don’t get me wrong: I would still be sad, and pity you greatly, if it were the latter.
So, with the color of my skin being the least of my concerns these days, it comes as a surprise to me when that color becomes the object of someone’s admiration or curiosity or hostility.
Black History Month tells of what happened in the past. Unfortunately, some of the past is still happening today. Now and then I receive a jolt that shocks me out of my colorless state and makes me long for the Day when this color stuff will be over.
Here is the story of one of those jolts.
It was early evening, Summer of 1999. I was leaning against a lamp-post waiting for friends in an area of Santa Barbara where the rich and famous dwell. Coast Village Road was bustling with others hoping to enjoy the fine dining and shopping available in this popular section of the town.
“The spooks are out tonight!”
Someone was yelling.
“Oh, yeah, there go the spooks!”
Why is that man yelling in the middle of the street? And why is he looking at me?
“The spooks are out, yeah, there they are!”
Wait a minute. Spooks? That’s a derogatory term for black people. Why is he saying that? Oh, that’s right! I’m black! He’s yelling at me!
This man had wild flaring in his eyes. He had long blond hair, about six feet tall. He was taking long, quick strides, heading my way, and still yelling about spooks.
People were staring at me. There I was in beautiful Montecito, California, and being attacked verbally. I started to laugh. I shook my head in disbelief. And I hoped that he would continue his rant while passing me by.
That was not to be. It became obvious that he was working his way towards me, and I glanced at the many people who were around me. They all had looks of embarrassment and helplessness. Several able-bodied men stood a few feet away from me. Not one of them moved to aid in my rescue.
Seeing that my fellow citizens were not going to try to intercept this lunatic, I knew it was up to me to change the course of things. But he was becoming violent with his mouth and his movements, and I didn’t quite know what to do.
The laughing ended and I was now scared. I felt myself shaking as this man was only a few feet away, angry and spewing his hateful words.
So, I prayed. I said quietly, “God, help me.”
When that sad, pitiful man came right up to my face and stopped with a pose that dared me to say something back to him, I opened my mouth, having no idea what to say, and these words came out:
“Have you ever eaten at this restaurant?”
In an instant, I saw this man with a tortured soul transformed. It was like a demon had jumped ship. He had a new face. The rage was gone. He told me, in a clear, sane voice that, yes, he had eaten there, many times. I asked him about his favorite dish. He gave me the restaurant’s history. He said good-bye, and walked away.
One young man, who had witnessed the entire exchange, finally spoke and asked me if I was all right.
“Yes,” I said. “Kill it with kindness.”
Those words were not my own, either. I had Help. Thank you, God.
When I finally sat down to have dinner with my friends, and discussed what had occurred, I began to shake again as I thought about what I had just endured. But it didn’t take long for me to feel better.
For when I looked across the dining room, there I saw the sad, little man sitting in the restaurant, all alone, grumbling to himself, looking like he didn’t have a friend in the world.
I guess he had been spooked.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7
Girl’s hands holding globe — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis