Feeling dissed for being considerate

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

On a Saturday morning earlier this month I was walking to the YMCA. On Saturdays The Y opens at 6 a.m. so I was timing my walk to get there when it opened. So around 5:55 a.m. I was heading north on Wisconsin just north of Madison. I was walking on the sidewalk on the west side of the street.

I had just passed Al's Grill when I saw two people walking on the sidewalk just ahead of me. My pace was such that I knew I would pass them in less than 15 seconds. It was dark and they had their backs to me. I was certain that they were unaware of me. To avoid scaring them, and the awkwardness of brushing past them, I proceeded to go around them by walking in the street.

As I passed them I heard the snippet of a conversation that seemed to be purposefully loud enough to not be private, and since no one else was on the street at that time, directed solely at me. Among the words I was able to make out were: "scared," "white" and that noun that implies copulation with the parent who gives birth. As I accelerated my pace, I heard loud mock barking. Again, since the street was empty, the barking was directed at me. I was relieved to arrive at the YMCA.

Although the incident occurred a couple of weeks ago, it still bothers me. I have walked or run the streets of Oak Park in the dark early morning for more than 20 years, and I cannot recall a single time that I did not observe the pedestrian avoidance protocol described. I did not know the race, gender or age of the two persons when I moved to the street to avoid scaring them. 

I reasonably believed they were non-white after the verbal exchange described. So in some small way I believe I was racially profiled and stereotyped that Saturday morning. I suppose the two people could have been arguing and practicing their animal noises, but I'm pretty sure they were black and were angry at the white guy for walking on the street to avoid them.

I have two competing reactions. Now I can understand a little bit better how it must feel to have a stranger treat you in a hostile manner even though you are completely innocent of the elements of a stereotype, and were in fact trying to be merely respectful and helpful. Second, it made me angry and reinforced my belief that not all subjectively reported racism is either fair or valid, and all people have prejudices based upon unfair bias.

Obviously, the musing of an older white guy who got his feelings hurt is trivial, but I believe my experience and reaction are shared by many. 

Maybe when we have the courageous conversations about race we so earnestly seek, we can get beyond the usual stereotypes.

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 29th, 2019 10:47 AM

You avoided scaring them, so mission accomplished.

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