She Spat In My Face

She spat in my face.

It was a mist. It caught everything from my left ear to the left side of my lip.

Random white woman spit.

Racism exists… 

I left the store, and hopped on my bike with a 6-pack of beer and a plan. I did upwards of 20mph in the bike lane on Grand Ave in Oakland’s Adams Point Neighborhood; 6-pack in my right hand. Focused on getting to the house party and not dropping the beer.

A college classmate, D’Auria Henry was waiting on me about a block away from the house party we were set to attend. When I got to D’Auria’s car she hopped out and noticed I had on my Howard University sweatshirt. She said she doesn’t travel without hers, reached into the car and grabbed her garment. After grabbing the threads from her car, she reached in again to grab a dish of banana a pudding that she had prepared for the potluck/ party we were set to attend.

As she reached in the car, a white lady– 5’6 with matted black hair and a backpack, came walking past. The lady said, “I’ll throw a flower at you!” As she announced her action, she stayed true to her word. She tossed a flower in D’Auria’s direction. I saw it all happen. Didn’t flinch. I laughed– or better yet: I silently chucked and smirked.

The lady continued toward me.

I stood on the street-side of the sidewalk, straddling my bike. The lady walked on the building side of the sidewalk.

There was enough room on the concrete for her, or any normal person to walk by. A sizable amount of space didn’t prove to be enough. As she crossed my path, she waited until she was completely adjacent to me. Left side. Further than my arm’s reach, but close enough for the stretch of saliva.

She spat on me. 

I don’t remember the obscenity she said as she did it. I’ll never forget the shock hitting my stomach, nor the spit hitting my face. I was frozen. She took another step. She was now on my blindside, almost completely behind me.

I turned away from her. Toward the street. Still straddling my bike and holding my beer in my right hand.

I turned 180º. Not thinking. Reacting. I reeled around and launched my 6-pack of beer like a discus towards her. She was now about two or three steps past me.

My backwards frisbee toss of a 6-pack of beer connected. It hit her left side–gently. And then the entire case crashed to the concrete. Shards of glass and beer suds scattered.

Broken beer bottles
Broken beer bottles

That wasn’t sufficient. I dropped my bike.

I started after her. Taking took two or three steps in her direction “You spat in my fucking face!!!” I was yelling. I don’t yell often. When I do: I YELL!

She looked back at me, as her body gained momentum in the opposing direction.

Going from a walk, to a light jog and then a full run– she looked back at me and said: “You’re a fucking racist!”

I stopped. Right then and there: I was guilty.

I was guilty of being a racist. Assault with a deadly weapon. Armed robbery. Attempted homicide, kidnap, rape… whatever she wanted to throw at me.

If an officer had rolled around that corner at that very moment, it is very likely that I would have been arrested. If not shot.

She spat in my face. It hit my ear, my cheek … my lip.

I didn’t see it coming . Didn’t provoke it.

I was just straddling my bike. Headed to a party on a Saturday night:

In pursuit of my happiness.

… And then she spat on me. 

But I was racist.

I went back, grabbed my bike, used my undershirt to wipe my face; but I couldn’t wipe away the thoughts.

In many ways, African American culture is a reaction to being spit on. Many aspects of Black culture, both good and bad, are a direct reaction to the predicament we have been placed in as a people.

That Howard sweatshirt. That soul food dish. They are symbolic of African Americans getting disrespected, and then reacting in a way that is beneficial to us (and the larger society).

My violent reaction and vulgar language were an example of  what it means to be disrespected, and then reacting in a way that is detrimental to myself (and the larger society, maybe).

(Maybe it benefits the larger society if I choose the detrimental route… hmmmm…)

This combined with the stories I’ve been reading and writing about all summer: Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin. Alameda County Probation and San Quentin Prison. Homicides of old ladies and little babies. It’s like turning on the TV or looking at a movie screen and getting spit on. And then walking outside and getting spit on.

We have to choose how to react.   

Racism is only a belief. Racism is only a belief.

Racism is only a belief… until it manifests in the streets.

D’Auria lightheartedly said, “that crazy white lady wasn’t that crazy: she was smart enough to run!”

We laughed it off, purchased some replacement beer from Whole Foods and started toward the party. Passing back over the scene of the crime, I stopped to kick the shattered glass off the sidewalk and into the street. A Caucasian couple walked past. The lady of the duo thanked me for cleaning up the neighborhood. I laughed silently,told the couple to have a good evening, and then took off to my destination.

Just before D’Auria and I entered the house party, she looked down on the pavement: she found $60 folded on the ground. We split it.

My beer money was restored, and so was my understanding of racism.

God bless America.  

25 thoughts on “She Spat In My Face

    1. Man I would have beat that b*tch ass !!! I am an Howard Grad as well, but that night in the county would have been justified.

  1. I seldom find the words of my peers, verbal or written, captivating enough to warrant the gross depletion of my precious time and attention span required to read them. This was such a time. I agree with and advocate the act of taking a sober, retrospective, look at ourselves as individuals when assessing the problems of racism in America. When we begin to evaluate our own motives and the triggers that solicit less than civil responses of us, we attain the ability to successfully have a conversation about racism. Often times people speculate about “what-if” scenarios concerning racism and prompt others to join a cause and fund raise or whatever. You have put it as simply as possible, racism is a belief. We stand no better a chance of combating racism with anger, or attention for that matter, than we do of evangelizing the world using fist fights. A belief is a belief, which are typically more clung to as life guiding principals than federal laws and local ordinances. The sooner we, as a people, can see racism as a belief and the true ignorance and simple mindedness of it, we can pity racists the same way we would a mentally disturbed person who believes that they can fly. Besides, there was a time where that exchange would have undoubtedly resulted in your lynching (imagery is fun isn’t it) but that day it resulted in damaged pride, and a $60 come-up….we’ll call that progress, for now anyway. Be blessed big homie.

  2. It bothers the hell out of me when someone accuses a person of color of being a racist-Black people are discriminating and that is not a bad word in and of itself because we discriminate one thing from another. My Brother, you are not a racist, in order to be a racist one must have the armies and other institutions to enforce your dominance. That said, you were a victim of assault-yes-spitting is assault because you don’t know if that woman had HIV or any other life threatening diseases, and you had a normal reaction-as Brother Malcolm X used to say ” we respect ourselves, we obey the law, but if someone puts his hands on you, send him to the cemetery! You are a fellow Cancerian as am I; I am quiet, I mind my own business but don’t fuck with me…. you were good to just cuss her ass out–she would have gotten an old fashion ass whipping if she had of spit on me! Yes racism is still alive and well and living in America

  3. I am so sorry that happened. You are a strong man for not attacking her. It easy to throw a punch, anybody can fight but you stooped and you thought. Great job, my friend.

  4. Pen, I loved this! I’m here in India and I’ve experienced some racial insensitivity from the natives as well as from the students from the US that I came with. One of them comparing me to Aunt Jemima & even being called a nigger. It’s been such a challenge, but I loved your thought process and how you handled the situation. Kudos to you!

  5. I’m still in shock. It’s upsetting, but whatever you put out into the universe you get back. You received your beer money back, but heaven’s knows what is coming to her. You definitely took a high road by not letting her racist acts get you into further trouble. America is poor.

  6. Big homie,
    First of all, your storytelling ability is very admirable. Your ability to analyze a situation from all aspects is obviously the result of a desire to grow. Too often, we as people allow our understanding of the world as well as what we’ve been taught to set the tone of our actions. Yet, to find understanding we have to tap into the mindset of our surroundings and multiply that with the perspective of our own wisdom. That’s what’s so intriguing about this piece. The simplicity of a remark or situation can provoke a deeper thought. Great piece, sir.

  7. You’re better than me. Jail was a for sure if that was me.

    Secondly, I commend you for honoring your sense of humility through writing, Pen. I should read your blog more often than I do. So now, I’m going to subscribe.


  8. Penn, you a very powerful brotha and every event you write about proves that. But there’s more to it…. your writings are lessons. You make brotha’s like myself and others reflect on our own stories by encouraging us to share the same ways that you do. Salute! At the same time, that lady is blessed she didn’t pick a stick of dynamite wit a short fuse.

  9. Very interesting way to analyze and present a story that could have ended in imprisonment or worse. As always, very proud of you.

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