Terri's Cellar Door

Stuff that happens to me, Terri.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

What Kind Pt. 1

“What kind of nigger are you?” These words were shouted at me from a passing car as I drove down the road, my windows partly down. NPR at a modest level. My ‘Defoliate Bush’ bumper sticker proudly displayed on the rear of my car. A man, in his early to mid thirties, white, unshaven with dirty blond hair and a cap displaying his favorite NASCAR driver on the front, was hanging out of a passenger side window, shouting at me. As he sped by, I could see his friends in the seat beside him, none of them looking particularly ashamed or angry. Then, me, on my way home, days before leaving for college, staring slack jawed, and wordless for a moment or two. Passersby looked, though I’m not sure if anyone, except me, understood the words that he had yelled, almost unintelligibly, at me. I remember his face, twisted into an almost grin, so pleased with himself for thinking up something so bitingly harsh, so horrendously cruel, and then hurling it at a young girl. I looked toward him and then he was gone.

My anger was quick in gathering, and rising. How dare he say something like that to me? I’m a college kid, a daughter, a sister. I’ve volunteered to work with kids, to help animals. I’ve flipped burgers, and I’ve ridden a bike. I’ve done things that he’s done, and before that moment I was no better or no worse. I once got stung by about five yellow jackets, and I had to carry a little child who shared my fate and worse. He was white. I once helped a little girl who fell off a bandstand and got a terrible gash on her leg. She was black. I loved and hated and hugged and kissed people of all races, and yet his words, touched me in a way that I never thought I could be affected. Why should I be held responsible for his ignorance, his inability to see the truth? But there I was angry at that man, angry at myself, wanting to do something to hurt him as much as he had hurt me.

This was not a word that I had never heard before. I had heard it plenty of times, but always uttered by people the same color as me, or with no malice or hatred involved. Never before had I fallen victim to the use of that word in a context that unfriendly. I was alone in the car and as I pulled over for a moment, I wanted to hate him. I wanted to hate anyone like him. Had all my years of trying to see past race, and trying to focus on things of importance, been for nothing? If there were still people in the world like that, people as ignorant and as hateful as he was, then how could a person like me, a person who believed, truly, that all men are created equal, how could I continue to be so naïve? He had stolen my innocence, and my optimism, all in one fell swoop. There was nothing I had done to provoke it, and all the same there was nothing I could do to prevent it. I only understood that the moment had come and gone, and while he and his friends were already laughing about other things, I was still living in that moment, wondering what I could have done differently, wondering how I could have struck back, wondering how I could cause some injury that would make him suffer.


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