You’ve got some mouth on you for a church lady – Elam Ferguson, Hell on Wheels

When it comes to my children, rarely do I see things in shades of gray. People are either kind, compassionate, and encouraging to my dear ones . . .

. . . or they are dead to me.

And since, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equated hatred with murder, well then I guess I done murder last week.

It happened like this. My son called me from a gas station to say he’d locked his keys in his car. Fortunately, I was nearby and able to swing by to help him out.

Now my son wrestles with the twin demons of depression and anxiety, so I wanted to minimize the incident – to make clear to him that this is something we’ve all done. It wasn’t a reflection of his character or some sort of moral failing on his part. Why just a few days earlier that week, we’d had to circle back from that very same gas station to retrieve a purse that I’d left behind at his place.

My son stayed at the gas station with has car, making sure the attendant inside was aware of his what was going on. I drove away, retrieved his keys, gave my son a big hug, told me I loved him, and then drove away.

As I drove, I saw a man standing near some heavy equipment who had struck up a conversation with my son. I assumed he was merely a concerned citizen, checking in to make sure everything was okay.

So imagine my surprise when my son called a few minutes later to tell me that this person had called the police on him, based on suspicion of drug-related activity.

Photo of my Filipino son

Looks threatening, doesn’t he?

What’s important to know here, is that my son is Filipino. He has dark skin, and he looks as though he may have come from any number of ethnic backgrounds.

The other thing you need to know is that this man had messed with the wrong mama bear.

I used every single angry word known to the English language, and perhaps a few more which had previously been unknown. Trust me, it was not a flattering depiction for a gray-haired old church lady.

I schemed and strategized every conceivable way I could destroy this man, his family, and his livelihood.

I plotted to track him down at his place of business and send angry protesters. Maybe even contact a local news station and ask them to investigate a hate crime.

I was not okay with my son, having done absolutely nothing to draw suspicion to himself, being profiled based on his skin color.

I was not okay with my son, having done absolutely nothing to draw suspicion to himself, being profiled based on his skin color.

It turns out that the gentleman in question – and believe me, it took me some while before I was able to refer to him in that way – was a local area landscaper who regularly performed maintenance at the gas station.

So I tracked him down, called him, and unleashed a stream of unadulterated and unrestrained hate-filled rage.

Before long, his wife came to the phone. She explained that she and her husband had lost a daughter to drugs and, ever since, he’s been highly suspicious of anything having the slightest resemblance to drug activity. He had seen me hand something to a young man and then drive away, and that’s what raised his suspicion. She also told me that she and her husband have a biracial great-granddaughter who is the love of their lives.

“So how would you feel if someone treated her in the same way?” I shot back.

The longer we talked, the better I was able to hear the couple’s story. The man apologized for his actions toward my son. He asked me to apologize to my son.

We asked for and extended forgiveness to one another, though I did not apologize for taking a stand against the evil of racial profiling.

Now given that the situation was resolved quickly and peacefully, you might think that this would be the end of my story. But it isn’t.

Because I know far too many people of color for whom this is neither a rare nor a shocking incident.

When my son-in-law told his work crew what had happened, one of them – a man of color replied, “Welcome to my world.”

As a white woman of privilege, this experience gave me just the slightest taste of what it’s like to be singled out and harassed based on one’s skin color, and it tasted of sulfur and bile.

I didn’t like it one bit.

So I feel the need to steward this experience well, but I’m not entirely sure what that will look like.

I fear that, unless or until folks personally experience the ugly undercurrent of racism for themselves or someone they love, it will remain merely an issue they can either take or leave.

But this is something that goes on every single day to people all around us, and it is not okay.

So for now I’m sharing my story, and hoping and praying that it makes some amount of difference.

“Hope,” wrote St. Augustine, “has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

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