The parking lot at Safeway was crowded, as it always is, around 5:00. All of us there were tired and trying to gather a few things for dinner. Frozen dinners and pre-cooked rotisserie chickens moved down black conveyer belts to be rung up and bagged by employees whose exhaustion mirrored ours.
A Latino man, wearing faded light blue, saggy jeans that landed in waves of cloth around his ankles and a black wool cap (though it was over 85 degrees outside) stood at the edge of the my line, in front of a small refrigerator, and juggled a large Gatorade back-and-forth between his hands. A White man in his 40s , carrying around a middle-aged pot belly and a small basket of items was scanning to see which was the shortest and fastest moving line. He asked the young Latino man, “Are you in line?”
“Naw man. I ain’t in line so I don’t know why in the fuck you talkin’ to me,” the Latino man snapped.
“Really now,” the white man retorted as he laughed (condescendingly) and met the Latino man’s stare.
I immediately tensed up – or rather – I tensed up more. All week, everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been on edge. Americans are in a such a state of collective mourning and anger that decency, manners and patience seem more difficult to conjure. We are all like those people who come back to work on Monday after burying someone we loved on Saturday. We don’t know how to function anymore. Things that used to matter, no longer do. You get an email from your boss or the customer asks you for something and immediately you want to curse them out; your friend from high school posts a picture of her kid going to summer camp and you have the fight the impulse to write, “No one gives a fuck . . . do you understand what’s going on in the world?” A driver looks as if he is going to cut you off and you look at him in the back mirror and think, “Not today. Not to-day. Do NOT mess with me today.”
Throughout the week, I’ve swung from Malcolm X to Martin (and then back and forth again). Part of the time, I’ve been walking around in the, “I wish a motherfucker would” frame of mind.” Yes, I’m an adult non-violent, got-a lot-to-lose sista, but this week, I felt all my education and upbringing could disappear in two seconds. Conversely, at other points I have craved healing and attempting to be a part of it. My husband and I went to dinner Monday night (the only Blacks in the restaurant) and the interaction between the 20-something year old blond server and me was a dance of apologies and appreciation. We both seemed to be communicating and bonding over each request, conversation exchange, or handling of food and dirty dishes. I’ve noticed White people who look at me and simply smile for no apparent reason. I smile back. With that simple exchange, I believe we are both signaling sight – I see you. Despite our country’s madness, I see you, lovingly.
So when the Latino young man snapped at the White man in Safeway, my emotions swung like they had all week. First, I was just human: “Damn dude, why do you have to be so mean for no reason? What are you so angry about?” Then I remembered what he was angry about and I became a Black American. I was angry too. Then I swung to being an American, and I was sad. I hurt for both men. I hurt for us.
Nobody’s America is who we thought she was. She betrayed us. She, a chameleon, revealed different parts of herself to various groups and each group thought that they knew her intimately (some thought she was theirs exclusively). And now, her assertions about “We the People”, and “Justice for All” have been revealed as the lies that they were. And instead of accepting that America is troubled and in need of therapy, we are pissed at the other lover. Some are mad because they realize that they may be losing their America, their dream. Some are mad because they realize that America was never theirs in the first place. Some are enraged because they’ve always known that America couldn’t be trusted; that she has literally broken hearts along the way. But some find it easier to bury other people than to look at the truth and bury the dream.