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.  

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Reconstruction: 2010.

I sat at my friend’s graduation thinking, this is reconstruction:

John just got his certification, congratulations. I am 15 units away from my degree, and graduating. His is from Mandela Cypress Center for Construction Training . My degree is from Howard University’s School of Communications. His school was started in the early 1990’s, after the Loma Prieta Earthquake shook the Bay Area and caused the Cypress Freeway to fall; the need for construction workers in the East Bay skyrocketed. My school was created in 1867 after the United States Federal Government created the Freedman’s Bureau and the need to educate the “freed slaves” skyrocketed.

He is a certified carpenter, which allows him to go out and build some of those lovely condos that are gentrifying American’s urban sprawl. In due time, I will be a professional media producer, which will allow me to produce those lovely news stories about victims of violence, and how their bodies are sprawled out across urban America.

Certified Construction worker: Congrats John!

He’s a construction worker. I’m a constructive writer. We represent Reconstruction, 2010.

He chose vocational training, I chose liberal arts; both of us are looking to attain what DuBois and Washington called, “first-class citizenship”. We’re living proof that the ideological debate between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois is alive within us,in the first decade of a new century.

At the start of the 20th century, the once enslaved Africans in America debated the quickest root to achieving “first-class citizenship”, which was defined as full economic, political, and social engagement as Americans. This is otherwise known as achieving “the American Dream”.

Washington stood firmly behind the philosophy of mastering a trade, showing your value to America through contributions and earning political, economic, and social inclusion. While DuBois challenged the status quo and stated that we should not sacrifice civil rights in order to attain first class citizenship, instead we should study liberal arts and engage in America’s social, economic, and political arenas.

My friend John chose the path that Washington spoke of, mastering a trade and contributing to America’s blue-collar labor force. I chose Dubois’ method, studying liberal arts and contributing to America’s white-collar labor force.

But the question is, who is on the right path to achieving the American dream?

An interesting article was published by News Week in early June; the article addressed the growing division between American classes and how factors such as location, race, education, and the current state of the economy are aiding that division. The author concluded that, people trying to enter the job market, such as John and myself, will have to “…cobble together part-time jobs to pay the rent or accept positions with lower salaries or fewer opportunities for growth. Long-term, as the economy rebounds, this nagging unemployment rate means the economic disparities in this country will keep growing.”

I’m currently applying for internships but to no avail as of yet, so this summer I am freelancing for 3 different outlets; I knew all three of my supervisors before going to college. John is a part of a Union, but since gaining his certification he has only done work with his grandfather; who he obviously knew before his certification program.

In essence, we are both working part-time. As the economy is rebounding, we are both “cobbling” together jobs in order to make ends meet. And as we both live check to check, we are both slowly starting to realize: this isn’t exactly the American Dream we dreamt about.

Although we’ve taken different paths, we’ve ended up on the same cobble-stone paved path; A slow-moving path made of place holding part-time jobs, that we’ve only landed due to old bridges we didn’t burn.

First Class citizenship isn’t going to come from working for someone else, cobbling those jobs together is merely throwing stones at a much bigger issue: Ownership is the key to the American Dream.

As the author mentioned in the News Week article, there is a growing divide in-between the classes in America, which side of the divide do you want to be on?

America’s division isn’t between the wrench workers and the writers, but between the owners and the hourly workers. If it’s first class citizenship we are seeking, then question is not which is a better path: vocational training versus traditional education; but the question is, which method better prepares us to leave the beaten path of part time jobs and make the trail blazing move toward ownership?

Foolish Pride…but That’s How P-Ride.

In middle school, I hated free lunch. You know how embarrassing it was to stand in that line? I don’t… Cause, I never stood in it. I’d sit and be hungry before I ate free lunch.

In high school, I hated going to the store with the foodstamp card, you know how embarrassing it is to whip out that colorful EBT card in-front of a store full of people? I don’t -I’d wait for everyone to walk out of the store before I made my purchase.

And now that I’m in college. The stage in life where everybody is struggling. I find the hardest thing in the world is to ask for financial assistance.

This is the classic example of having so much pride that I’m not willing to compromise my morals for money.

And this boggles the mind…

Is it an extension of the same middle school and high school shame?

Is it a Black folks thing- where we only brag of wealth, and shamefully hide our short comings?

Is it a man thing- where societal gender roles say: Pendarvis, you’re a man now, and your role in society is to protect and provide; and since you can’t provide for yourself, you must protect yourself…and your self-esteem?

This is deeper than the grumbles of my stomach on the late night. This more emotional than the frustration I feel as I try to call my family back home…and my phone is cut off.

This is the battle between morals and pride when your money gets tight.

Thursday night, my hunger caused me to swallow my pride: I asked a co-worker and long time friend, Jeremy Odoffin, if I could have a micro-wave TV dinner tonight cause I couldn’t afford to buy anything to eat.

On the first floor of the college dormitory in which we work, we sat and talked over the freshly microwaved blessing brought to me by Marie Calender.

Jeremy said, “At a point, you have to sit and question- What is it about society that put you into a position where compromising your morals is the only means to survival?”

I sat. I questioned.

what is it?

Why did I not eat free lunch in middle school? Why was I ashamed to use food stamps in High School? Why am I still ashamed to ask for a TV dinner in college?

I AM A MAN

I am a man.

haven’t I seen that slogan somewhere before?

The civil rights movement! thats right!

They had so much Black Pride that they collectively decided not to compromise their morals.

Many African-American’s took to the streets baring signs that read: I AM A MAN. Simultaneously, King’s Dream and Malcolm’s speech were about holding America accountable to the freedom promised to all citizens as defined by the US Constitution.

I should be able to wake up in the morning and be able to pursue my true happiness uninhibited by the societal requirements for survival…the societal requirements that cause many men to sale dope and rob innocent citizens…the societal requirements that cause many women to strip and prostitute…the societal requirements that cause many people to throw their morals out of the door when their money gets low.

When it boils down to it, I’m not going to sale dope to my community in order to eat tonight. I’ve been there, and I’m never going back. I’m not going to drive around women so they can dance for money, and give me a small percentage in order to pay my phone bill. I’ve been there, and I’m not going back. And I’m not going to plot on the pockets of intoxicated individuals who have more money than I. I’ve been there, and I’m not going back. I’m not going to compromise my morals and I take pride in that.

Ironic, some might this piece as a man calling out for help, and truthfully there is a touch of that present in my prose. But more evident than my need for financial assistance, is my need to see my self as a self-sufficient man.

In closing: I find it funny how, when I don’t NEED something, but want to see if I can get it for free, it starts off as a game: “can I use my words to get this or that” is the concept… and if I don’t get it, it’s kind of humiliating and humbling all in one. But when I sincerely NEED something and want to see if I can get it for free, it starts from a place of slight humiliation and complete humility…but when I don’t get it …its not a game.

Yea, It’s not a game.