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The Friendly, Caring, and Kind Crossing Guard on My Block Hates Muslims

Being a person of color means frequently weighing whether the internal calisthenics we experience when responding to microaggressions are worth it.

A couple months ago, my wife and I moved from a loft in a refurbished school house that existed on a somewhat sketchy but always quiet block to aloft in a refurbished building that exists on one of the busiest blocks in the city. Admittedly, it took me a while to get used to our new neighborhood, but I’ve come to appreciate having both a park and my favorite chorizo tacos in the city within a 200 foot radius.

It is also a block that is near a school, and has many school-aged children waiting for and catching buses. So every morning and mid-afternoon, there’s a crossing guard out there glad-handing and directing traffic and generally doing what crossing guards do. We interact a few times a week, when I walk my dog early enough for her to still be out there.

And, although you probably don’t know this particular woman, if you are a Pittsburgher, you know this woman. She was your crossing guard when you were in school. Or maybe your school bus driver. Or school nurse. Or the woman selling hot sausage sandwiches and brownies in the concession stand at diocese football games. Or the woman who manages your favorite deli in Brookline. Or your favorite server at Ritters. Or the woman at the counter in the City County building who hands you a pen to complete the forms you need to contest a speeding ticket. Or the woman at the second pew every Sunday at Immaculate Conception. Maybe her name is Susan. Or Kathryn. Or Ann. Or Lisa. Or Mary. And maybe she lives in Morningside. Or Bloomfield. Or Beechview. Or Polish Hill. Or Lawrenceville. (Not on Butler Street, though.) When certain type of people think of a certain type of Pittsburgher — a Yinzer, basically — this is the type of woman they picture. And, again, even if you don’t know this woman, if you’re reading this and you’ve spend any period of time in Pittsburgh, trust me. You’ve known this woman.

And she’s great at her job. Of the dozens of kids who travel through her intersection each day, she probably knows the first and last names of 90% of them. And their parents’ names. And their siblings’ names. And their GPAs last semester. She’s just as magnanimous with the adults who happen to walk past on their daily commutes, too, greeting everyone with a smile and asking if the new baby is walking yet or if they had fun at Nemacolin last weekend. We usually talk about the Steelers. Or the weather. Or the weekend. Sometimes she’ll ask when my wife is due. And sometimes she’ll share some neighborhood gossip. (“I think your neighbors are getting a divorce. But you didn’t hear that from me.“) And she always — ALWAYS — loves to see my dog. She gives him treats from a bag she carries with her, she nuzzles his nose, and she’ll even call his name from a block away. Which he loves. When he sees her, he gets so excited that I have to tighten my grip on the leash because he’s bound to run us right through the interaction and into traffic.

Which is why it sucks that, earlier this week, she felt compelled to volunteer her feelings about Pittsburgh possibly taking in some Syrian refugees to me. (“I don’t know your feelings about this, but I don’t want Peduto to bring the Muslims to Pittsburgh. Those people hate America.“)

And also why I didn’t know how to reply.

Maybe this is a chance to help reverse biases--but sometimes you don't want to be James fuckin Baldwin at 8:17am
Which might seem surprising, considering that I make a living writing about race and politics and culture. Specifically, I make a living creating content that challenges — or, rather, attempts to challenge — people’s feelings about race, race-specific incidents, and race-specific entities. Often, I use humor. Sometimes, when humor would be inappropriate, I’ll go for something more sober. Either way, when it comes to this topic, I’m rarely at a loss for words. Or in a situation where I have the right words, but choose not to say them. On paper and in person.

But sometimes the internal calisthenics that occur when people of color experience microaggressions — the living and breathing ledger that balances what might happen if you say something against what might happen if you don’t — leads you to decide that it’s just not worth it. And maybe it might be worth it — maybe this is your chance to help reverse, or, at least, challenge a person’s long-held biases — but you just don’t feel like it. You just want to walk your dog, talk about the weather and the Pirates, and go back home. Sometimes you don’t want to be James fucking Baldwin at 8:17am. Sometimes you just want to continue to have a superficially cordial relationship with a person you speak to three days a week and 15 seconds at a time. Sometimes you just want to deal with a white person without dealing with White People. Sometimes you just want to get back in the house and eat a frozen waffle.

Which is why I replied “It’s complicated” and kept walking.

And then I got in the house, ate those frozen waffles (and bacon), and wondered why they weren’t as good as they usually are. Probably because of the shitty taste still in my mouth.

About the Author

Damon Young is the co-editor of 1839. He's also a co-founder and editor in chief of VSB (VerySmartBrothas) and a contributing editor and columnist for EBONY Magazine. Damon is busy. He can be reached at damon@1839mag.com.

Comments

Our Comment Policy: We do moderate so be excellent to each other (word to Bill & Ted). Don't attack our writers. Don't attack other commenters. If you're not sure if what you're typing is an attack: lemme stop you right there. Healthy debate is great. Criticism doesn't have to hit below the belt. Encouragement is dope. Meaningful discussion is the wave.

  • Carlin Christy

    I know this woman. I’ve talked to hundreds of them. The only names you forgot were Donna and Debbie.

  • Dara Brooks

    Where one ism exists, there’s another ism not too far behind it.

  • Heather Lynn

    I completely understand your sentiment of “internal calisthenics” (what a great way of describing that struggle) but from a different perspective. As a liberal, atheist living in a smallish city in North Carolina I experience that “shitty taste” you describe on a regular basis. What’s interesting to me are the assumptions that even white people talking to other white people make about each other. And based on what? My mere presence in the South? The fact that I’m white? Are they just playing the odds that I’ll feel the same way about some ridiculous, “backwards” insensitivity or straight-up vitriol that just came out of their face? Are they simply uncivilized? Hoping for a fight? So sure about their “rightness” that it doesn’t occur to them that anyone could feel any differently? Regardless, it is rare that I respond with much more than some noncommittal grunt and for many of those same reasons you describe. I end up being overly polite when what I really want to say is “you’re so fucking dumb”.

  • Alyce Barry

    Thanks for your courage in writing this. As a so-called white person who’s often been guilty of privilege, I’m nervous about saying this, but I think going home and eating your waffle instead of calling this woman on her anti-Muslim ignorance is what I think might be called privilege, at least if you picture yourself eating your waffle while Muslims across the country are getting bricks thrown at them. If I’m right you’ve probably already thought of that but I’m pointing it out in case you hadn’t thought of it that way. I’d like to have really quick retorts to have in situations like that, and maybe having a one-sentence reply all ready to go would make it easier to be James Baldwin at 8:17 AM. Like, “94% of terrorists aren’t Muslims, and millions of Muslims love America and are really good citizens.” http://www.loonwatch.com/2010/01/not-all-terrorists-are-muslims/

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  • Lauron Thomas

    “Sometimes you just want to deal with a white person without dealing with White People.” This is so accurate. I am friends with a lady at my job who is at least 30 years older than me and we have nothing in common besides proximity. Sometimes when she talks, I have to try hard to separate her words from the words of White People. We work in Baltimore, and I practiced so much tongue biting that my I told my mom I just wanted a certificate of appreciation for my birthday because that was hard work. I like this wording though, these are my sentiments exactly.

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  • cr cn

    Thank you for writing this article. I am a practicing Muslim, and to be honest, my children now feel like pariah’s in America. My four children are all good, kind, well-mannered kids, avid readers, and high academic achievers. They admire the U.S. Constitution (in theory, knowing it has been imperfectly applied on an equitable basis, for ALL Americans). They have high ideals, wonderful ethics, and want to volunteer and, later, have careers that could make this world a better place. They want to make a positive difference in the world and be contributors and role models. But their feeling is increasingly becoming that there is really no place for them in America. This actually saddens them greatly. They feel that they, and other American Muslims, are misjudged and misunderstood, and I agree. Our values are the same values that can make America great again: A belief that all people are created equal and deserve equal opportunities; a belief in justice and fair treatment for all; a belief that education (not just formal) and knowledge are key to our way forward; a belief that we must all try to do something to save this planet; and a commitment to the common good. But right now, my four kids all seriously doubt that they will stay in America beyond university. With the haters leading in votes, my kids worry that it seems increasingly unlikely that they’ll be able to play on an equitable field in the future. Their exit would be America’s loss. The U.S. needs more kids, more citizens, like them. On the other hand, I feel that if things continue on in the way things have been going, it will be safer for them to go.

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  • http://www.broodingfeminist.com Rima

    Had she said something about black people, would you have said something? Just a question. Because as an Arab-American, I’m feeling the heat right now. FUCKING SAY SOMETHING. Always. That doesn’t mean you have to get confrontational, or angry, or any of that shit. But the only way you change peoples’ minds about this is by SAYING SOMETHING. Say, “Well, I disagree. I know a ton of Muslims and they’re amazing people.” You’d be surprised how much of a difference something that small makes.

    I would say it for you. Say it for me. For the sake of fucking humanity.

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