Shoe on the Other Foot

Today, I went to my favorite pizza spot for lunch. As soon as I sat down, the waitress approached my table, gave me a menu, and asked me what I wanted to drink. “I don’t need a menu. I’ll have the two slice special, please.”  In the time between the waitress’ question and my response, I heard a woman exclaim in her barely hushed outside voice, “We were here before her.”  I turned my head in the direction of the voice to see who said it.

She was white.

She was shooting daggers at me from her eyes.

I fought to hide the smug smile that was trying to overtake my face.

I was immediately taken back to an incident that happened when I was little.  I had to be younger than seven because my sister had not yet joined our family. Mom and I were sitting in a doctor’s office. People came and went and we were still waiting to be seen. I asked, “Mom, why are we still waiting? We were here before them.” She stopped flipping through a magazine, looked down at me and said, “Because we’re Black.”  She offered no further explanation. She just returned to her magazine. I sat quiet, confused, and stunned. That five second exchange was scorched into my memory and permanently tinted the lense through which I looked at life. 

So when I heard the same sentiment uttered today in response to my being served first, that little Black girl sitting in the doctor’s office broke out into the Cabbage Patch. 

This wasn’t exactly an instance of the shoe being on the other foot.  The waitress was white. I didn’t know her, so she wasn’t doing me a favor.  For whatever reason, she came to my table first.  Not two seconds later, she went to their table.

But I’ll take it.

Clean the damn water!

“Don’t push me, cuz I’m close to the edge.  I’m trying not to lose my head.  It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.” – Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five

Detroit Free Press
Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press

I am absolutely dumbfounded by the situation in Flint, Michigan. Not only am I angry that families have been poisoned, I am ready to fight over the fact that the Governor knew about this and did nothing about it. Look at that water!  People are expected to brush their teeth with that mess?!  You have GOT to be kidding me!  I am pissed to the highest pissedivity!  How could anyone turn a blind eye to the poisoning of an entire town?!

Flint is a blue collar town that has a population of about 99,000 people. General Motors was founded there and it is the place where the Flint Sit-Down Strike happened in 1936-1937, which gave birth to the United Auto Workers union. Still wondering why this crisis has been ignored?

The median household income is $24,834. Still wondering?

A majority of its citizens are African American. Still wondering?

Let me spell it out for you. This town is populated by a demographic that rarely has a voice at the table. It is populated by people who are not viewed as a threat to anyone’s political livelihood. It is populated by folks who barely make enough money to take care of themselves and their families.  They most certainly don’t have the money to buy influence over the decision makers of the state.

When you read this timeline of events from NBC news, if you weren’t already angered by this situation, you will be. GM complained about the water rusting car parts and nothing was done?! Oh wait.  GM has a loud voice in Lansing, so Flint thought fast and made arrangements for GM to use a different water supply, but continued to subject its citizens to the dangers of lead in the water. As the old folks say, they oughta be ‘shamed of themselves.  It is apparent the city of Flint put economics first on its list of priorities and the safety of its citizens is at the bottom of the list. “They don’t care cuz the stay paid anyway.”

This is not just Flint’s problem.  To paraphrase Slick Rick, this type of mess happens everyday to the voiceless people in our country.  Substitute healthcare for water, and you’ve got the same situation in the states that decided against the Medicaid expansion.  Same kind of population. Same “we don’t care about your health and safety”-type decision.

A late apology isn’t good enough.  The lawyer in me hopes that the citizens of Flint band together and sue the pants off the State under the provisions outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The political animal in me hopes that the people of Flint get organized, register people to vote, and rally other communities to do the same.  The nurturer in me prays that the children effected by this are getting all of the care and attention they need.

Now let me find a few dollars and figure out how I can help the people of Flint.


Self Consciousness Ruined My Lunch

Many years ago, I lived in Iowa.  It was a wonderful experience; one I will never forget, but there was one experience during my year that that left a deep and long-lasting scar.

I had been in Iowa for a couple of months and was longing for the familiarity of home.  I wasn’t necessarily homesick, I just wanted something that looked, sounded, or tasted familiar.  I went with a friend to a local diner for dinner.  On our way to our seats, I saw an African-American family (not a common occurrence) eating dinner.  The fried chicken and corn they were eating looked so good that I knew I wasn’t going to need to look at the menu.  As we sat in our booth and chatted while waiting for the waitress to come and take our order, I overheard two men at a nearby table having a louder than necessary conversation.  They looked like they worked hard for a living.  Both had on denim overalls and neither had used a razor in at least 36 hours.  One was wearing a plaid long sleeved shirt and the other, a long sleeved white t-shirt.  I pictured them both on the back of a John Deere, driving across acres and acres of land.  Plaid shirt said to white shirt, “Look at ’em eatin’ their fa-reyed chicken.”  His words dripped contempt.  White shirt responded with, “I guess they’ll order watermelon for dessert,” and the two men burst into laughter; their bellies bouncing up and down as if each were carrying a set of twins that were trying to break out.

My friend was in the middle of telling a story, that was apparently hilarious.  Even though I had missed the punchline, I laughed with her as I was crying inside.  I vowed that I would never again eat fried chicken in public because I refused to be the butt of someone’s racist joke.

For years and years, I stuck to that vow, and then I was introduced to a local Amish Market in Maryland.  The fried chicken there smelled incredible.  You would think that it was the only thing on the menu because it seemed that everyone was eating it.  While my friends ordered and happily ate their chicken, I refrained.  Years after that, an Amish Market opened in my area.  I ordered some chicken to go, but by the time I got home, the hot, crispy chicken had become a bit soggy in its styrofoam container.  Faced with the weekly temptation, I finally gave in and ordered the chicken and ate it right there in the market with all of the other people, both white and black, that were enjoying the deliciousness.  I thought I was finally over the Iowa incident.

Today, I went to the Amish Market for lunch.  While eating my chicken leg, I noticed a very angry looking little white man staring at me so hard that his eyes seemed to squint.  I looked behind me because surely he wasn’t staring at me like that.  But he was.  He was wearing a blue volunteer firefighter t-shirt and was at least a foot shorter than his buddy who was sitting at the counter with him.  I stared back at him and he looked away.  He actually turned his back to me so that I could see the VFD in big white letters across his back.  His shoulders where hunched up by his shoulders and he seemed to be saying something to his friend.  His friend laughed and looked in my direction.  And just like that, my appetite was gone.

I’m renewing my vow.  Right here.  Right now.