Meaningful Change

No Passes

A man called me a black tramp, nappy-headed, four-eyes, and a bitch. He was mumbling, so those are just the pieces I caught.

I let his first tirade go. Don’t engage. That’s what I’ve always been taught. I stood behind him on the street corner, waiting for the light to change. I was in a hurry, so I walked briskly past him as soon as I was able.

His barage of insults continued, and, at that point, I had to engage. I wanted to yell or to put my cardio kickboxing skills to good use. Instead, I turned around and responded with a simple, “That’s not necessary.” He proceeded to cuss me out and to tell me to get out of his face.

This was a black man. Not homeless. Potentially mentally unstable but cognicant enough to single me out in a group of otherwise white people.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been publicly berated. The insults typically start to flow after I’ve ignored an advance. A switch flips from crude compliment to rude comment, all underscored by the same ego.

That wasn’t the case this time. A black man chose to berate me because I was a black woman who owned her blackness with pride. With that realization, I became more tired than angry.

Tired because I have used my words to remind others that his life mattered. I’ve had conversations that have left me shaking and in tears. And this black man used his voice to tear me down. Tired because my parents taught me not to call out men who try to assert power over me through street harrassmants. They might become physically abusive. Tired because they’re right. Tired because there is a particular brand of hardship that comes with being a black woman. Generations of rape and raising children not our own and facilitating change and being excluded by the changemakers and, more recently, keeping pedophiles out of political office.

I felt a flicker of spite. Forget meaningful change. Forget racial profiling and the school to prison pipeline. You wanted to silence me, anonymous black man? I’ll be silent.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I am a black woman. Choosing to go high when others go low is our modus operandi. I won’t be silent. In fact, I’ll speak a little louder. I’ll call out injustice wherever I see it. Being a black man doesn’t get you a pass.

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