As a white woman, I had never experienced the cruelty and public humiliation of abject racism. I did yesterday.
The father of a dear friend of ours passed away. Her father had lived a full, long life, and by all accounts was a good, kind, gentle man. In honor of him, and in support of our friend, Don attended the visitation on Friday, and I planned to attend the outdoor graveside service yesterday. The service was held at a local church where we had attended several events, including NAACP dinners. Yes, we’re NAACP members.
Upon my arrival, a woman approached me to tell me that I was “upsetting” a family member. I was surprised.
Backstory: A couple of years ago, I represented a couple in a land dispute against the owner of the offending rental property. As is my practice, I attempted to open lines of communication with the owner in efforts to settle, to no avail. He refused to communicate at all with me. At the trial, I largely prevailed, the right result under the law and the facts. The owner, against whom suit was filed, refused to accept the court’s ruling, and continued to violate the court’s order.
I brought the owner back to court on a “show cause,” a legal process by which the court could order the offending owner to comply with its order, or face criminal contempt. For this round, the neighbor hired an excellent (and high-priced) lawyer to represent him. Despite the other lawyer’s best efforts, the owner was in the wrong, and the court was unhappy with owner’s flouting the court’s order. This round, he was ordered (again) to comply within a certain number of days, and reimburse my clients for their legal fees in bringing the matter back to court. (I have no doubt that my fees were but a fraction of his own legal fees.)
Back to the funeral: The owner of the offending property is a nephew of our friend whose father had passed. In the parking lot of the church, he insisted that I was not permitted to attend the service for our friend’s father.
The owner/nephew was loud. He told me I had no right to be there because I was white, was racist, and represented racists. He told me that the church was a black church, and that I had no business being there. While I was making my way to the car in which our friend was waiting (and waving greetings to others whom I knew), the owner/nephew called the sheriff to report that I was not permitted to be there. I spoke with my friend, asked her what she would like me to do. She was shaken, and responded that I was there to support her, that she had invited me. I sought out the pastor of the church – a well-respected pastor, funeral director, and community leader. The pastor and I went to my friend’s car, and agreed that, to keep the peace, it was best if I left. The entire time, the owner/nephew was within feet of us, refusing to provide even an opportunity for private conversation.
I left, in tears. A good man, whose life we had gathered to honor, was dishonored. I was unable to support my friend. My friend was upset, and was unable to stay at her own father’s funeral. I was publicly humiliated. I was hurt and devastated.
In this frightening period of escalating (and justified) racial tensions, I realized that, for the first time in my 69 years, I was called out for the color of my skin by a cruel bully for no legitimate reason. For the first time, I personally understood the hurt and irrationality, and yes, anger, of judging someone because of the color of their skin.
And I realized that this reverse-racist act hurt my friend and her family. It is a memory of her father’s funeral that she’ll never forget. The owner/nephew hurt me, momentarily.
For the first time in my life, I felt victimized and powerless. But it caused me to reflect on reality: my black friends and acquaintances have been victimized and powerless for their whole lives.
This incident had nothing to do with my friend, most of her family, the church, the pastor, or our many black friends/acquaintances/customers/clients. We’ll continue to attend integrated or predominately black community events, church services, funerals, and other gatherings. And we’ll continue to be warmly welcomed. We know that the acts were the acts of one ignorant individual.
Sadly, there are far more racist, cruel bullies who are white. They have no place in our society.