For those of us in the northeast corner of the United States, the past month has just been one non-stop snow storm. Poor little Boston, the city I actually work in, looks like the snowpocalypse. The amount of snow in Massachusetts actually makes the snow we have in Maine (the state I legally reside in) look like child’s play and we have a lot of snow.
As one can imagine, the past month has been nothing short of a clusterfuck when it comes to travel and schedules…schedule, what’s that? The snow dates need snow dates at this point. Which is how I found myself on a train back to Maine on a Friday afternoon, the one day that I strive to be home in Maine. Yet when you are behind in work due to snow and the bookkeeper has retired and your 2014 financial records need to be closed out, you work when the snow allows.
The Friday afternoon train back to Maine is one of my least favorite trains of the week, a caustic mix of commuters, vacationers/daytrippers and others with the tension of high expectations in the air. This Friday’s train ride, sadly, did not disappoint. Considering that earlier in the week, I spent three-plus hours on a train that never even managed to get out of the state of Maine due to a broken-down freight train on the tracks (and ultimately ended up backing up all the way to where I live), the ride home was looking pretty uneventful and at only 30 minutes behind; pretty timely, and making me fairly happy…until it was time to exit the train at my stop.
As I am making my way to the door (mind you this is an Amtrak train) with my bags, I end up standing by a family that includes a young boy of 10 or so, a woman who appears to be the grandmother and on the other side of the aisle perhaps the boy’s mom and a sibling. Standing there, I noticed the grandmother and boy looking at me which honestly is nothing new. I am Black in Maine; looky-loos come with the territory. Depending on my mood, I ignore, smile or give the look of disapproval. Last night, my mind was a blank slate as it registered that the boy had just said something about Black people while giving me what we in my house call the look of stank. The grandmother leans over to the boy who then proceeds to say very loudly and clearly “Black people kill White people” his grandmother gave me a sympathetic look, the boy stared at me, behind me white people were queuing up to get off the train, the young white man in front of me looked away and adjusted his ear buds. In that moment, I felt my own humanity disappear. To be Black, to be othered has too often meant a white person, even a child, can snatch your humanity away just because of the color of your skin.
Yet I am a woman on a life journey, a journey to find my voice and demand my place at the table of humanity. So with little hesitation, I found myself leaning over with tears in my eyes, telling that boy that “Bad people kill people. Period.” I also told him that not all white people are good nor are all Black people bad. I asked him where he lived and he told me Winslow, Maine. I told him that the world is larger than Winslow and hopefully he would grow up and see that this world is filled with all kinds of people. The kid stared back at me in shock, the grandmother just looked at me and the man behind me said “Good for you for speaking up.” Excuse me…good for me? This is the world we inhabit now, where action is considered extraordinary because too often we choose no action. We fear discomfort, we don’t want to lose our place or get messy so instead we bear witness to the dehumanization of others and offer tentative head pats. By the way, the man behind me was another Maine to Boston commuter whom I regularly see on the train.
When the train finally stopped and I got off, it hit me that I was more pissed off about the fact that a gaggle of white people had heard this kid and not one had the courage to speak up. Something that I have seen far too many times in recent years. As for the boy, clearly what he is exposed to in his life is setting him up for hateful and fear-based beliefs.
In the end, we all have choice: how are we living and what actions are we modeling for others in our lives. Words without direct actions have little meaning. We can claim all sorts of things but if our actions don’t support the words, we are lying to ourselves. To live fully and completely means we lean into a life where we don’t run from the messy or uncomfortable; where we put on our muck boots and brace for the mess. We stand in truth for truth and if justice is on our sides, we give no fucks. So I muse aloud, “Where are the good white people?” The ones who are willing to break the barriers of discomfort for truth and justice. I know there are some, but it seems at times that there are so few I can’t help but have moments in which I believe they are about as real as the superheroes in comic books and movies.