The other day I stopped at the Wawa on Fairview Rd. near Swarthmore for my morning mocha cappuccino. I was wearing my “Black Lives Matter” mask that I’d gotten at the nearby Dollar Store. Next to me at the ordering screens was an older white woman with a mask dangling from one ear. When she finished, she turned toward me and when she saw the mask on my white face with my white hair, she gasped in horror, shaking her head no! no! no! and sending such a wave of hatred toward me that I felt it like a punch in the gut. Her loathing was so strong it seemed to take all her will power not to spit on me!
While over my eight plus decades I’ve been next to friends, colleagues, protesters, fellow activists and neighbors more times than I could ever count as they were subjected to subtle and vicious attacks of racism, I could only protest; my voice was usually ignored unless I wrote about it publicly. I’ve seen racism in politics and policies for most of my life, and have seen our distorted history books and the systemic racism legislated to create the horrific inequities that make America the white supremacist country that it is today, so well-delineated by Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow. I took some deep breaths and looked this terrified woman in the eye with compassion. What could I possibly say to her? I caught myself wondering if she had a gun…maybe in her car? I try my best not to think in these ways.
Feeling powerless, I grabbed my coffee and left, shaken at the thought of how people of color are subjected to this kind of barrage of personal, political and legal hatred every moment of their lives, where once they step out into white America, their bodies are no longer their own. Yes, institutionalized racism in every aspect of life does cause health problems in people of color!
A couple of days later, I was talking with my son, Eric, who lives across from Herbert Best VFW post 928, a headquarters to law enforcement motorcycle clubs in Folsom. He said that on Saturday, a gathering of about 75 protesters were to gather in support of Black Lives Matter. When the got to the park, they were blocked by about 50 bikers, armed with Trump signs and a Confederate flag, protesting involvement of overpaid athletes who “took a knee against police brutality”, their scary visages threatening violence. No mention of guns was made in a brief article in the Delaware County Daily Times. There is a video of truckers “burning rubber” surrounding demonstrators in black smoke.
The marches went around the edge of the park, continuing on to the municipal building at Rte. 320 and MacDade Blvd. where the bikers again blocked their entrance. Both groups ended at the Ridley Twp. police station where they apparently disbanded without further incidents.
What is it about the Black Lives Matter movement that evokes such fear and hatred and propensity for violence so close to the edges of our town, which for the most part hasn’t dealt with much more serious things than the theft of yard gremlins?
Why did my mask of support evoke such irrational fear in a woman who knew nothing about me, only that my skin and my hair were white? I confess for a moment I had a blip of prejudice crop up in me when I thought “She’s obviously a “Karen!” I wouldn’t let myself hold onto that thought, stomping it out of my head with some deep, releasing breaths. But I was still scared, and confess I was hesitant before I went out with that mask on again. But I did.
But who are these people? What fears have molded them into haters, killers, and supporters of a regime that is killing them through lack of a national plan to fight a virus that knows no politics. How have we come to this? And is there any way, considering who is in charge, of coming out of this violence and fear, and moving toward a new vision of a new America that works for ALL?
Judith Trustone, Co-Director
Global Kindness Revolution