Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pushing buttons

In my digital storytelling workshop with the high school girls we’re exploring issues of conflict resolution. We’ve been discussing how people push our buttons and I’ve been trying to help the young ladies understand that by responding negatively or with aggression they are allowing the other person to have control over them. I often have this same conversation with my two kids.

Well, the other day I found myself in a too familiar situation and I allowed my buttons to be pushed and I pushed back with attitude.

It all started when we got the kids to school a little late on Thursday morning and if you drive up to the school after 8:25am, you have to park the car and sign the kids in at the front desk. It’s a huge hassle, but a terrific motivator to get the kids to school on time.

So, Loverman parked the car and I hauled the kids to the elevator to make our way up to the front desk with a bunch of other late families. When we get to the front office, there’s a line with about 5 people in front of us, and about 10 folks behind me. I instructed the kids to make their way to their classrooms as I waited to handle the sign in. I’m patiently waiting when I notice Mr. White Man, who was behind me, leaves the line and decides to stand right next to the folks currently signing their kids in. I’m next in line and I look him squarely in the face as he huffs and puffs and makes all sort of gestures signifying he’s in a hurry. As soon as the woman ahead of finishes with the clipboard, this joker has the nerve to grab the clipboard and handle his business. I couldn’t believe it and I tried to count to 10 before I opened my mouth and say something completely inappropriate. In the few seconds before he finished, I tried my best to just let it go, but of course, I couldn’t. I had to say something. I needed this fool to acknowledge the wrong he’d just done. As he took the time to shove the clipboard my way, I, sarcastically and loudly say, “You could of at least said, excuse me.” The joker looked at me in the eye as if he was seeing me for the first time and asked, “What do you mean?” I went on to ask him if he didn’t realize that we all were in line and this fool then exclaims, “Yes, but I have to get to work.” Well fool, we all do. I’m on my way to work. Loverman, waiting in the car, will go to work after he drops me off and I’m sure all the other parents behind me have somewhere to be after they get their kids to school.

As this man is looking at me like I’m a piece of new fruit, he couldn’t seem to understand why I chose to call him out, and a part of me wishes I could have simply sucked it up, appealed to my higher self and silently wish him well, but I just couldn’t. Unfortunately, this particular scenario has happened to me and countless others too many times to count, and each time to happens, it’s just like the first and I want the insult/disrespect to be acknowledged. I want a sincere apology.

I may be wrong, but I believe race dynamics are at play in these situations. Why did this man think that the other (mostly brown) people waiting didn’t have a job to go to? Does he really think his interests supercede the rest of us? If I’m going to be honest, I’d say it’s how he’s been socialized and some might go on to say that I’ve been socialized to feel victimized or slighted by his actions. Maybe, but sometimes people dismiss how simple, thoughtful gestures and positive intent can do a world of good in healing race relations.


Melissa said...

You know, this happens to me all the time, as a woman. It's always by a man. It makes me absolutely nuts. There is no worse feeling in the world for me than feeling like I am invisible. It translates to "I don't matter." I, too, always want to just take the high road and not say anything, but when my blood gets to boiling, I can't resist opening my mouth. I just can't. A simple "excuse me" or "may I?" would definitely help the situation, but it's still going to irk me for the rest of the day.

Anonymous said...

For every action there is an equal and oposite reaction. I believe you were just "equalizing" the button pushing. Black folks don't have to accept being invisible. You did the right thing. Too often we accept the guilt that rightfully belonged to that aggressive man. It doesn't matter whether he was a racist or sexist. He was wrong and he should have to think about it. Bullies are rarely addressed. That's why they continue to bully. You did the right thing.