Kindness of Strangers?

This past week my husband and I watched Spike Lee’s documentary “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise” on HBO.  Excellent, but painful to see.

Of course, we’ve followed the story closely from the beginning.  We have extended family members who had relatives living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina first hit.  None of them, not one of them, has ever moved back.  If you watched the documentary, it’s easy to understand why.  The stories that came out of that horrendous week are, well, horrendous.  The police corruption, the death, the mayhem.  Unfathomable.

What struck me most in reflection was the overall lack of kindness among strangers.  I’m certain there were many stories of  resilience and coming together in the face of adversity that aren’t covered as much.  But the depth and breadth of the stories of pure nonsense, of using a tragedy to fuel one’s own hate of another, of cities determined to keep New Orleans poorest and most destitute people out of their areas (to the point of shooting pedestrians without a word), is absolutely shocking.

And New Orleans simply brought to light that which seems to seethe under the surface of certain areas in this country.

Did I tell you the story, earlier this summer, of taking my morning walk when 3 blocks from my house, as I crossed the street on a green light, some unknown man in a random car tried to run me over as he yelled the N word out of his window at me?

Yes, we have issues.

On the flip side, one morning this past winter, I was out with my two youngest kiddos, after dropping my husband off at work, low on gas and without my wallet.  Apparently the gas gauge was in a funky mood because it turned out I was actually on “E” and the car died on the side of the highway.  It was 20 degrees outside.  We have roadside assistance.  So I picked up the cell phone to call and wouldn’t you know – no service…  Long story short, more than a few people stopped but I was getting strange vibes from some, and wary of who to trust (remember I had small children in tow).   A gentleman pulled his car over, an IT repair service vehicle, and perhaps it’s the techie heart in me or the kind smile, or that little voice, but something told me, he was sincere in his offer of help.  He not only paid for and got gas for the car, but he waited to make sure we off and capable of getting home safely before he departed.  And refused to give me his name or phone number to return the money.  Saying simply “pay it forward.”  Which we will, my husband is under strict orders to assist a woman & her children in need, if the situation should arise.

In both situations, I was a vulnerable woman (who happens to be black) approached by random men (who happened to be white) and of course, depending on the individual the situations left me feeling quite different.  Neither caused me to make a commentary about a whole group of people.  It’s time we afforded minority groups the same courtesy.

There is a need in our country today to stop trying to sweep under the carpet that which is painful to confront.  Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

The polarization that threatens to encroach upon our very well being is slowly seeping through the edges of our society.

The only way to rid ourselves of the “race card” is to stop playing the “race game.”  Period.  And that means saying no to racism in every form, every day.

I hope we can agree on that.

On the other hand, I hope that we can get back to (or perhaps finally beginning to cultivate) that Norman Rockwellesque vision of a country where the kindness of strangers is a given, no matter the appearance of the persons involved.

And you know something, it can all start with a smile.


***this post was originally written by me in the summer of 2010***

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *