Lecey Looks Around

Written by on October 4, 2018

The Summer of 2006 was a hot one. I don’t know if you were in Salina that year, but the heat wave that hit topped out at 114 degrees, and this town felt every degree. The streets were steaming by eight thirty in the morning, and animals with even a patch of black in their hides sought cover shortly after, around ten. My two-year-old son and I were staying with my sister for a little, and I was working at Subway about a mile from her house. Having no car at the time, I walked that unshaded mile and back every day for a month and a half. I didn’t mind because it gave me time to think. The heat, however, had taken its toll on me and it became obvious I couldn’t keep walking in it. My manager was kind enough to offer me a ride home; that’s where my problem began.

A little background information, as a dark-skinned, mixed race, American, I have been faced with the stupid side of racism more than the vicious side. I can remember being nine and having an elderly woman ask my mother, who is white, where she got those beautiful African children. Eyeing us like she was inquiring after a particularly adorable purse she was hoping to buy. I’ve had grown men ask me what it’s like to be black like I have any concept of being anything else. Hair touching. I’m just saying. Hair touching.

When my white, male, manager offered me a ride in his air-conditioned car in a heat wave, I was grateful. He turned to me at the first red light and uttered the dreaded words, “Can I ask you a weird question?” I was prepared. ‘Oh gosh, what’s it going to be?’ I thought to myself. “Sure,” I said and braced. “Do black people feel the heat more than white people?” Now, exactly how do I answer this question? There are so many options. Do I respond with a rousing, “How the hell should I know?” Should I verbally gut him with the history of medical experimentation on African Americans and explain in deep and excruciating detail the results thereof? Or… should I jeopardize my job and livelihood, chuck it all, and cuss him out for ignorance and offensiveness?

At that exact moment, the air conditioner kicked on. That cool sweet air ruffled my hair from my forehead. I breathed and reflected. This poor man had no idea what he was asking. No idea how dehumanizing or demeaning his question was. How could he possibly know the many stupidities and ignorances behind what he was asking me? He was in no way conditioned to take anything like that into consideration. So, I took a deep breath, forgave, and responded, “You know, I’m really not sure.”

Three weeks later, I started driving school so I could get my own license.

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