Today, like many days, I used my break from my classes to take a walk. I went to the convenience store on 79th and Penn to pick up a lighter. I’m a smoker and today was not particularly a day I wanted to be rejected by thirty non-smoker students when I asked them the age old question — got a light?
It’s a beautiful day and I’ve got no money. I ask the man behind the counter if I could put a 50 cent lighter on my credit card.
He smiles at me in a sad way and says that they have a three dollar minimum on credit cards.
I just paid rent and pay day is Friday. I don’t even have three dollars on my credit card.
Hoping to find a magical quarter or two I look down to dig around in my bag, knowing that this is pretty much futile act. I raided most of my change buying a burrito for lunch the day before. The man in line behind me sets his six-pack of Bud Light on the counter and tosses a fiver to the clerk, telling him to keep the change.
I shoot him a look. Couldn’t he be a little more patient?
He says to the clerk, “Won’t that cover it?”
Then a wave of “duh” washes over me. He wants to buy the lighter for me.
I look at the man again. He is a middle aged African American man. He is wearing a polo shirt and jeans with sunglasses tucked into the collar of his shirt.
My heart sinks a little as I start to feel squeamish. I think, please, not today. I am harassed by men frequently. My mind runs through the familiar scene of me walking briskly through the open lot between the store and Braum’s with him yelling profanities at me for rejecting his advances.
I tell him thank you with my eyes down, not wanting to make any expression that could be incorrectly interpreted.
“No trouble at all,” he says softly as he grabs his six-pack off the counter.
He walks to the door and holds it open for me. I walk towards him looking him in the eye, waiting to see his eyes lower when I pass by him.
But they don’t. He glances outside as I walk through the open door.
Now in the parking lot, I start in the direction of the college while waiting to hear the “hey girl” that is surely coming. I take ten steps in silence, until finally I glance back to see him walk to his car, get in the passenger seat, and drive away.
I smile to myself, happy to feel safe.
The point of this story is that sometimes people don’t like to talk about their prejudices. As a female and sexual assault survivor, I have a prejudice toward men. As a white female, I am guilty of internalizing our societies degradation of black males.
I learned something incredible and incredibly simple today.
Don’t let your prejudices and past history damage the beautiful essence of humanity. Carrying around preconceived notions is exhausting. Having your guard up all the time is exhausting. Like the luggage you drag around at the airport; don’t pack things that could harm others.
Try approaching each new experience with an open heart. Otherwise, you might miss out on the essential human interaction — one person treating another person with dignity and respect.