Hush: Summer of Love, the Fourth of July and the “N” Word

There is a thing I do, make white people comfortable. Survival techniques my parents taught me.  Be well-mannered and respectful as not be perceived as an uppity negro. It does not matter if you are better educated, better read and more economically advantaged, just make sure ‘they”don’t feel it. Over the years, I learned, be passive and demure so I would not be perceived as the angry black woman. The  past few years, I stay quiet and soft spoken as not labeled “one of those black lives matter people” to avoid an all lives matter debate. I do this well. I was with five friends in South Carolina touring at a polo field and one of the guys commented, “Wow, this looks like the plantation days, they even have a niggers mowing the lawns.” Stunned, I could barely breathe and froze. To have the word yelled at you in hatred stings less than when you hear it used in a conversation that you are a part of. Who and what taught him to use that word in the context and what made the others accept it? Yes, I do a very good job of making white people comfortable.

But, I’m tired. I confess, I am part of the problem.  I let my fear that I will sound angry, militant and accusatory keep me silent and I have not respected the character and integrity of my friends enough to have some transparency of emotion.  Once I described an incident at a pool and the response was, “well we didn’t have this in California.” Exhausted,   I replied,” you’e not a person of color, how would you know?” The immediate thought that raced through my mind, oh no, now you’ve made her uncomfortable. The reality is, It’s human nature to want to isolate a bad experience. We don’t sit and constantly think a plane can crash into a building, an airliner can crash into the ocean or a ship can sink. Understand,as an African-American woman, experiences some  people can isolate, treat and one offs are my every day world. I’m embarrassed to admit I wouldn’t go to the community pool covered by my homeowners dues alone because I fear racial slurs and I’d only go with friends.

Watching the NBA play-offs, for the third time in a week, someone commented about the hair of the African-American players. Things like, “look at that crazy hair”, “that is too much hair” and “shouldn’t there be a restriction on the height of a player’s hair, you can’t see over it. ” These seemingly benign comments, for me, showed a culturally narrow view of reality. I pushed myself and commented, “our hair grows out, not down.”  Interactions like this don’t require an extended conversation.  A response such as “message received” or “thanks for the insight,” for me is preferable over awkward silence. In June, I thought I was making progress in being a bit uncomfortable until this week.

I saw the dash-cam video from the Philandro Castile. ¹ It is 1 minute and 8 seconds; you see the officer approach Mr Castile’s vehicle, you hear the conversation and see the officer draw his weapon and shoot. The last 8 seconds show  Phlandro’s 4 year old daughter exiting the car crying. In the audio, Mr Castile was respectful, he narrated him movements and the officer shot him 4 times. To quote Trevor Noah, that broke me. As a black woman who has had the police stop me outside my home as I was getting my mail, the idea that as polite as I was in the moment and when I followed the “protocol” and said here is my license with my address, I am reminded the incident could have gone horribly. That is gut wrenching.  I’m not here to debate the trial and outcome.  I just ask, how did a stop for a burnt out brake light end like this?  I really wanted hear about this from a white perspective.  After viewing the dash-cam video, does this interaction seem ok?  I want to ask, but, I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. It occurs to me, people may think the things they  hear in the news on the treatment of African-Americans doesn’t  bother me because I don’t speak of it and that’s on me.

On Saturday, I was in San Francisco for an art exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.It fascinated me that the adjoining wing featured an exhibit of African-American Art of the South. There were photographs; during the same time period as the summer of love, there were  civil rights protests, police turning dogs into the crowds, African-Americans being kicked and beaten, and a sign I wish could be a relic of the past. As painful of a past as it represents, it is even more angst ridden when I think the only thing that dates this photo from over 50 years ago is the car.

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In the final weeks of the NBA playoffs in June, LeBron James; house was vandalized with the “n” word.  A portion of his response said:

“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough. And we’ve got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African-Americans until we feel equal in America.”

Next April will mark the  50 year anniversary  since the assassination of Martin Luther King. Many things have changed, but there is still a long way to go. This fourth of July, as we celebrate independence and the sacrifices it took to get here, let’s all make small sacrifices of our own and have the conversations needed to move us forward even if it is a little uncomfortable.





  1. Powerful piece from an extraordinary woman, gut punches, and much to think about. A very strong, standout writing in your collection! You are amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Not all that long ago, I was watching a panel discussion, probably on CNN, that featured four mixed race guys — I only remember that LaVar Burton was one of the panelists. One of the white panelists described an incident when he had locked his keys in his car by accident and I watched as Burton’s jaw literally dropped as the fellow said that a cop came along and helped him use a coat hanger try to get into his car without so much as asking him for an ID. As a white Star Trek and Reading Rainbow fan, this was an incredible eyeopener for me.

    I’ve admired you as a colleague for so many years. Thank you for this incredible essay!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Powerful and extraordinarily poignant words! Would love to share uncomfortable conversations with you… responses I get, when I respond to comments or situations I know are wrong, are placating. Laughter or disgust are thrown my way.
    Your voice has reached my soul causing me to reflect and act.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Absolutely touching and beautifully written ❤ Microagressions and blatant disrespect hurts in a way we’ll never be able to explain. What I think it’s more disturbing is the fact that aggressor has very little self awareness to understand how deep these things cut. Thank you for encouraging us to reflect , on our words and actions .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am only too aware that there are “rednecks” everywhere around the world and I have learnt to stay quiet because I can never convince them of their irrational views. Too read this from a lady that I know and admire is truly horrifying, to realise that the world has not moved on from the bad old days. I saw it South Africa recently, I see it hear in Australia. A very sad comment on our so called civilised society. Please keep writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A covered pot of water left on the stove to simmer WILL BOIL OVER! Removing the lid slows the boil. Articulating ones feelings perhaps moves us closer to a solution! In the meantime “Stay Woke!@

    Liked by 1 person

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