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 a…loft 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
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.