I was in Baltimore the night a verdict was expected in the Freddie Gray trial. My sons and I had gotten stranded on our way to Colorado, and decided to make a day of it in the big city.
All day, I was ignorant of the momentous occasion that was upon us. Privilege, to not even be thinking of it.
On the bus from the airport, we asked the driver what we should see while we were there. She said to get on the light rail and ask someone which stop to get off at.
On the light rail, we asked a kind (black) man (everyone on the rail was black but us–I only realized this when looking at photos later), and he told us to get oysters at the Lexington Market. He was drunk and perhaps did not notice that we were white. And we had not yet noticed, either. I mean, had not noticed that it mattered.
So we went to the Lexington Market. There, we noticed. We noticed that everyone was excessively kind to us. We could not walk half a block without someone stopping to ask if they could help, and walk us to the next block. A man feeding the pigeons noticed my youngest son watching, and gave him the whole bag of crumbs, and stood there to watch his enjoyment. Another man helped us cross the street safely.
We were so. Safe. So. Loved. So cared for. We felt like we were surrounded by family whose greatest thought was our comfort and enjoyment.
Then we got back onto the light rail and made it to the tourist part of town, and only then noticed that the white people there were the first white people we’d seen in several hours.
Later, now tangentially aware of the momentousness of the day and location we had stumbled upon (someone had mentioned it in the aquarium gift shop), we traipsed back toward the light rail in the falling twilight, and got lost.
And stumbled upon the Block. The change was sudden. One minute, we were wandering down an alley not unlike many here in Charlotte, well lit and nondescript, the next minute I was Mother on High Alert, pushing my children through and away from the lascivious grasp of some animal on the corner being egged on by his drunken comrades outside the Red Lace Palace.
We had made our way into the worst, most violent, most likely-to-erupt-in-riots section of one of the most dangerous places for a white woman in America at one of the most volatile moments in the city’s history, and my phone was dying.
A Subway saved us, and a kind police officer, and an Uber driver.
But not really. What really saved us was love.
I can’t prove it, but I believe all those people at Lexington Market, in a part of town with trees literally growing out of windows of abandoned buildings, all those brown faces and arms and hands, I believe their love marked us. I believe they saw how clueless, how vulnerable, how alone-without-knowing-we-were-alone we were, and how without friends or family, and they chose to make us not alone, they chose to make us *with* family by making us *their* family.
And they saved us.
If you cannot literally believe that, then believe this. We were not harmed. We were allowed to pass. Despite everything.
So, when the media tonight and tomorrow and in the coming days shows you the riots, the burning and the slashing and the anger, I hope you will remember. I hope you will think of Baltimore and how what the media showed you there was a tiny piece of the picture.
And what the media is showing you now is a tiny picture. People are angry. Oh, yes. Very angry. But the riots are only a very tiny slice of what is a very big thing, and the biggest part of that thing is love. Ferocious love. Love that will not stand by and let a man’s murder go unnoticed. Will not let that man’s family go unfriended.
And maybe we too can do some of that. Maybe we can try to do what the people in Lexington Market did for my family. Love. Surround. Mark our brothers and sisters with love, mark them as our family, mark them in spite of and because of their difference, without knowing their intent or their history or why they do what they do, create safety around them so that they too can pass.
One can dream, at least, and maybe someday the dream will come true.
#AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile #Dallas #LoveWins #IHope
[This post was written and published on Facebook on July 8, 2016, before I heard the news about Philando Castile and before the police assassinations in Dallas. I have updated it only lightly, and I still stand by it.)