The Analogous Reverse: Tales of the City and Martin Luther King Day

It’s reverse bullying. That was my ridiculous and embarrassed reaction to a horrible situation. Early one morning, around 6:30 am, it was still dark when I walked a few doors down to Starbucks. I am hyper aware of my environment and froze when I saw something flutter to my left. It turned out to be a leaf. Nothing to be alarmed about. What I saw a few minutes later was. While I looked out the door and to the left, I totally missed a woman sitting next to the door on the right. I walked back in the lobby and the front desk could tell I was shaken. “Was that woman there when I left?“ The night staff replied, “You didn’t see her when you walked out? She was there when you left. She comes every night around 11:00 pm and gets on the bus every morning.”

Many thoughts crashed in my head. Since the first week in December, she’d come  at night, sit/sleep by the door. Sadly a few nights later, after I knew of the situation, she was beaten in front of the building. She knocked on the window and asked the front desk to call the police. The police showed up a few hours later. The next night, she was back again. For all the holiday cheer in December, this broke me. It was 36 degrees Christmas morning, I was dressed and ready for a brisk walk when I glanced out the window and saw her. I was afraid to leave. The words reverse bullying flashed through my mind.

…and to all a good night?

I am embarrassed by the sheer thought and yet it gave me insight. Why was I  afraid of her? Avoidance, to hear stories of people with no where to go is one thing to see it is another. We’re a an inflection point where the old narratives of, that’s what they want, they are on drugs, blah. Blah, blah don’t hold any more and I know it.  I go to a warm safe home, she was sitting out on the street. There is no denying the disparity, the difference in situations or the facts. There are over 5,000 homeless in Oakland. We can talk about the particulars later like the right term, unhoused or experiencing homelessness, etc. 5,000. There are three homeless shelters in Oakland. THREE. In no kind of mathematical gymnastics does that work out.

There is a women’s center with 10 bedrooms. Applicants must go through county social services and have a verifiable course of income. Another center for women is open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm for breakfast and lunch, laundry services and showers. Great for 4 hours and that’s a wonderful offering. But you know what, this does’t help the lady by the door. The police came and left her. We do not have a safety net, the police do not refer someone who has suffered trauma to social services and offer housing or care for the evening.

When I thought reverse bullying, it was a shortcut I took mentally to describe a myriad of emotions I wasn’t ready to confront. The true reason was a mixture of shame, embarrassment, helplessness and feeling I’d be judged as uncaring, I just didn’t know how to be, While I had nothing at all to do with there situation, it does’t mean it can be minimized.  While I can’t solve her problem, it does not mean a problem does’t exists. While I feel discomfort, we have to coexist. It’s so obvious my “reverse bullying” is so out of line. I am in a dominant group – housed. 

The Myth of Reverse Racism

This reminded me of my frustration when people decry reverse racism. You cannot be in the dominant group and call reverse racism.  The majority or those in power define systematic discrimination and behaviors. No reverse racism. There may be an assortment of emotions not easy to define. Like me, those who endorse or buy into “reverse” racism can feel some type of way about their peace of mind being shook. Sure, in this generation, this person did not buy slaves, barter slaves, have slave labor. They did not write the Jim Crow laws. Not all are engaged in voter suppression, etc. However, that’d does not mean it’s not happening and there is not a problem to be solved. 

Today is Martin Luther King Day. It’s strange for me to think he died 55 years ago in 1968. A lived experience for me is a history lesson for others in the struggle for equality. The novels of Octavia Butler seem to eerily predict the future. To this she replied:


“I didn’t make up the problems…All I did was look around at the problems we’re neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters.”

Octavia Butler

This week, consider the problems we’re neglecting now, what happens when they turn into full fledge disasters?

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