That morning I decided to sleep in. I had spent a too much time editing a chapter and the alarm was insufficient to stir me. By the time I descended the stairs the kids were immersed in their breakfast and were soon off to school and a play date. I remained at home in the hopes of completing a few last minute revisions. Having gone over a good portion of my work, it was time to make my way to the office for the afternoon.
As I turned the corner to South Street I encountered a man I had not seen before. He looked at me with slurred speech and disdain. Then he said, “you are a ******* *****!”
Racist encounters often come with no warning or opportunity to prepare. One moment I am walking to work, the next I am deciding what to do about the man before me. I began to work out the calculus that many African-Americans will recognize. Is this man a danger to me? No, he is much smaller and drunk. Has the alcohol given him a little too much courage? I am not sure. If it does turn into a legal situation will I be given the benefit of the doubt? Hmmm, unsure. He is drunk, but I am black. What is the best way to handle this quickly? I will try the stern look. Verbal confrontations are unpredictable. The look does its work. He realized his mistake and stumbled off. Only two minutes have passed, but my day has shifted into another key.
Next comes the inevitable replay. What if I had home left 30 minutes earlier and avoided the whole situation? Should I have said something?
It was nearing lunch, and one must eat, so I picked up a sandwich and headed to the office. Do I recount the events of the morning and change the tenor of everyone’s meal? I’d better not, I am not sure that I want that conversation. So I push it to the back of my mind and attempt to enjoy my food. After lunch I get back to work. As I review my research, my mind drifts over the various encounters I have had in Scotland and beyond. Race and a chapter on Second Temple Judaism battle for my attention. I finish enough of my work to feel productive and return home with questions about race, gospel, and education bouncing around in my head. How many hours have I spent distracted by such events over the years? How much energy does this require? How often do my colleagues think about race? My eight hours as a black man in Scotland are over.
I am home. My daughter and son shout dad; my youngest smiles. I remember Jesus. I am tired and sad, but I hope.