“I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when looked at in the right way did not become still more complicated.”
– Poul Anderson, author
Barbara hit them, but she’s still not sure what hit her.
It was New Year’s Eve. Barbara was at the Walgreen’s in SouthPark buying a get-well card for a friend.
She was slowly backing out of her parking space when she tapped a car behind her that she hadn’t seen. She pulled out of the way, put her car in park and got out to survey the damage, if any.
Immediately, she says, three black teenagers jumped out of the other car and started yelling at her.
“Hey, you white bitch!” they yelled. “You hit our mom’s car, you white rich bitch!”
I have only one person’s perspective, of course, but it got worse from there, Barbara says. The three teens bombarded her with even coarser racially tinged profanity.
The teens’ mother emerged. She is white; Barbara thinks she is their foster mother. While she and Barbara, in her expensive coat, looked over Barbara’s Lexus and the woman’s beat-up Hyundai, the teens continued their verbal assault. The mother did nothing.
The mother pointed to a dent nowhere near where the tap occurred and suggested it might have been a result of the collision. I don’t think that’s possible, Barbara said. Maybe we should call the police and fill out an accident report?
At this, Barbara says, things escalated. The teens let loose a barrage of names and gave her the impression that they felt she was threatening them by mentioning police.
Eventually, Barbara and the family went their separate ways, with no police and no exchange of information.
And that’s part of the problem in this story, which is just one scene from a larger story in Charlotte and the nation: No exchange of information between people who live worlds apart. Rich and poor, blacks and whites, liberals and conservatives, Muslims and non-Muslims, police and citizens – not enough information is being exchanged.
The Walgreen’s encounter is eating at Barbara. She feels so misunderstood. The black teens, it seems, saw the very embodiment of white privilege. They did not see beyond that, to who she is: A person with a deep Christian faith who, with her husband, has given millions of dollars to organizations that help underprivileged kids in Charlotte. They have given almost all of it anonymously. Barbara is not her real name; she asked to remain anonymous because she seeks no spotlight.
Now, she wrestles with what to make of it all, and she’s going places many of us would naturally, and regrettably, go. She questions whether she should continue her philanthropy. “My concern,” she says, “is how deeply ingrained hatred seems to be in the DNA of some young black men and women.” “I don’t think it would have happened if there were white people in that car,” she says. “What kind of work do we still need to do if they have these blinders on?”
But most of us have blinders on, of course. We live in our cocoons, worlds apart. When those worlds collide, like in a SouthPark parking lot, we struggle to reach across the divide. The teens see Barbara and apply an unfair stereotype. Barbara takes an undeniably harrowing incident and extrapolates that to a one-sided view of the state of race relations and the effectiveness of charity toward troubled children.
To her credit, Barbara knows these kids weren’t born with hatred in them and wants to understand them better. She knows they’ve probably lived through experiences that color their worldview and prompt such an inappropriate reaction. She says she wants to have a Christ-like response to the episode.
But it’s a struggle. It’s taking everything she has. And as worlds collide, it will take everything we all have to exchange – and, most importantly, receive – each other’s information.