“do you need a ride to the airport? I’ll glad you dump you back where you belong…why don’t you go back to your own country” The words were violently spewed out and even though they weren’t directed towards me by the angry woman whose bulk was covered in a baggy tweety bird tank top, I still felt attacked. I was bagging my groceries at Aldi as an argument about grocery store line etiquette erupted into a torrent of racist slurs.
What do you do in these situations? How do you react when someone you don’t know or care about violates the preciousness of what it means to be human?
As the fight got more heated between tweety tank top and the older european woman who had (heaven forbid) stepped out of line quickly to get something she had forgotten, briefly causing a delay and some blueberries to spill on the floor.I spun through how I could respond in the situation.
1. Confront the angry woman. Risk becoming the next target for her verbal assaults.
2. Ignore it and just get out of there as quickly as possible.
3. Start singing Lady Gaga songs at the top of my lungs to distract the angry woman and make another scene all together that would perhaps cease the racist vomit.
I quickly packed up my groceries without breaking into my version of “Bad Romance” feeling angry at the woman, angry that she had subjected everyone in the store to her verbal poison, and angry that this kind of thing still happens. Since my back had been turned I didn’t actually see the woman who she had been yelling at, but I turned around to the next woman in line who was older “were you the woman who was being yelled at? I’m so sorry that you were spoken to that way- it’s completely unacceptable…” turns out she wasn’t the woman who was being yelled at but she asked me “do you know that woman? are you related to her?” I was slightly embarrassed at this point because she wasn’t the woman. “no, I’m not related but I don’t think anyone should be subjected to being spoken to like that.” I noticed a black woman in line whose eyes grew wide as she watched the interaction between the two of us. I was curious what she was thinking and if she had ever been apologized to for the ways she had likely been subject to racism.
In the parking lot I saw another woman who was older and looked shaken up as she wheeled her cart to her car. I thought about just getting in my car and driving back to where I was staying, but I felt so horrible about what I’d just witnessed. As I approached the woman, I asked if she was the woman who had been yelled at. “I just had to get something else and stepped out of line quickly” she apologized in a slightly slavic accent. I quickly assured her that I wasn’t also coming to yell at her- “I’m so sorry that you were treated that way. I’m sorry you had to experience such awful racism- it’s wrong.” She softened and thanked me- “you know, my grand-father came to this country in 1904….two years later he came home. She never told me where home was but I’m guessing her grand-father likely didn’t leave because he was so overwhelmed by superb American hospitality. She hugged me saying, “thank you , there aren’t enough people like you in the world.”
As I drove away I thought about why I felt compelled to say something to the woman. I didn’t need to, I wasn’t the one who had yelled at her. However, because I believe that God has created everyone in the beauty and wonder of his image and that the love of Jesus is powerful enough to heal people, even of racism I decided to say something. As I drove down I felt a lump in my throat start to form as I thought about the older european woman, and tweety bird woman for that matter. Big, hot tears started streaming down my face & I began to sob for the brokenness in the world that causes people have to be degraded in such horrible ways and to treat each other in horrible ways.
I don’t post this blog to make myself seem special, praiseworthy or noble. I think this is the kind of thing that should mark Christian in this life- to be peacemakers who speak words of love and truth in areas of brokenness in peoples lives and in the world.