Late this afternoon, I treated myself to a pedicure. I especially love the big comfy chairs that give you a massage while the nail artist makes your feet look pretty. To be exact, I wasn’t actually on a break from writing. I was honestly still diligently researching my next book – engaged in reading a commentary. Comfy I was!
When a large sixty-something woman with bottle-blonde hair four chairs down from me announced loudly, “That black boy deserved to be shot!”
There were about a dozen of us getting manicures and pedicures in the room. All of us were white, except for one African-American woman. I looked up to see the heavy blonde woman starring at the back of the black woman’s head who was sitting at a table drying her nails between the blonde and a TV. The TV was on mute, but captions about Ferguson were running along the bottom.
Less than 3 seconds passed when the black woman turned to confront the white woman. The black woman – angry – pointed out that the boy probably wouldn’t have been shot had he been white. She named similar situations – worse situations actually – where white boys were captured alive. The white woman continued to hurl insults until the black woman stood up (all six feet of her). She towered over the short round white woman who kept talking. It was then I saw where the white woman’s boldness was coming from. Her grown son was with her. He didn’t speak, but he came to his mother’s side.
I can honestly say, that I have never seen racism like this in person before. I sat stunned. I tried desperately to think how Jesus would have reacted to this scene. I didn’t want to enter into their argument – to become just another screaming voice, but I wanted to demonstrate the love of God somehow. The black woman left before I could think of what to say. I watched her through the store window as she walk to her car. My heart broke for her. No one said a word in the salon. Not a word.
I was lost in my thoughts when I realized the black woman had returned. She was standing in front of the instigator again. She was angry and holding back tears. “You didn’t say that boy deserved to be shot – you said that black boy deserved to be shot.” The blonde woman responded “Yes, I did! That black boy!”
“You are a racist and nothing more,” replied the black woman.
The black woman had to walk by me to leave. This time I caught her eye. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to suffer this kind of hatred. I said, “I am sorry – not all of us are like that.” She stopped and said, “Thank you.” Then as she thought about it – she turned back and said, “Thank you!” again. Before she got out the door, another white woman wearing a black leather jacket turned to her and said, “I agree with what you said!” The black woman reached down and touched the woman’s shoulder and left. No one spoke. The lady in the black leather jacket locked eyes with me and shook her head sadly.
A young teenager also with blonde hair and heavy too, who had been in the waiting area, took the chair next to mine. We talked on and off about trivial things. She didn’t seem particularly bright or interested in much beyond nail color. I wondered if she was just a younger version of the lady four seats down. She called me “Ma’am” which I don’t like because it makes me feel old, but she was deeply Southern and it was meant to be respectful. It wasn’t long until the older blonde woman and her son got up to leave. As they passed the teenager, the girl said to her, “Excuse me Ma’am.” The older blonde woman stopped and turned. With great respect and in a backwoods Southern accent, the teenager said, “Ma’am, you have a right to your opinion, but this is America and we don’t treat each other like that here.”
Out of the mouth of babes…
April is a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.