A few nights ago, I was driving home from work at 11 pm. I was mildly irritated to discover that a long section of the interstate was closed for some unknown reason. I would have to spend a good portion of my 25 mile commute on surface streets. Ah well, there was nothing for it but to settle in and endure a great deal of zigging and zagging through Seattle. Thank heavens for Google Maps.
I was wending my way through downtown when I turned a corner into the intersection of Bellevue and Olive, and suddenly found myself right in the middle of a protest march. About 200 people swelled into the intersection and surrounded my car. I couldn’t move forward. I couldn’t move back. I was trapped.
It was a peaceful enough protest. They weren’t doing any damage, but they did look angry. They were carrying signs, mostly related to defunding the police, and they were shouting, “No Trump! No KKK! No racist USA!”
I believe wholeheartedly in every one of those statements. I genuinely do. But these protesters didn’t know that. What they saw was some random white woman. It would be easy to think I’m part of the problem. And in essence, I am, since I’ve unwittingly propped up the status quo for my entire life.
So there I was, trapped in my car, desperately hoping that this crowd wouldn’t see me as the enemy. If they did, there’s nothing I could have done about it. Every movie I’ve ever seen where a car is surrounded by a mob flashed through my mind. They could have easily trashed my car or rolled it over. I was completely at their mercy.
I did the only thing I could think of to do. I called my husband. As if he could save me, 25 miles away. But it was good to hear his voice. At least he’d know why I didn’t come home if the worst happened.
The traffic light cycled at least 5 times, but I was going nowhere. My heart was pounding. I felt like I was going to throw up.
And then I had an even worse thought. If the cops showed up right now, this would probably turn into a riot, and there’d be teargas and rubber bullets. And I would be trapped in the thick of it, with nowhere to go. Oh, God, please don’t let the cops come right now.
Yeah. Let that sink in for a bit. I was terrified that the cops were going to show up.
At one point, the crowd started marching down the street, away from my car, which, in fact, no one had touched. I heaved a huge, shaky sigh of relief and prepared to move forward, out of the traffic snarl. But then, inexplicably, they all rushed back into the intersection and engulfed my car again. I felt like crying. I just wanted to go home.
That crowd felt like one big, organic, unpredictable entity to me. I didn’t know what was going to happen. And then finally, just like the parting of the red sea, the crowd separated and let traffic flow again. The incident probably only lasted 10 minutes, but to me it felt like an eternity.
I headed home, feeling nauseous from the adrenaline dump. I fought back tears as I merged onto the interstate south of town. I felt like I had survived something that I never expected to encounter.
And then I realized that this is what it must feel like to be black a lot of the time. At the mercy of the majority. Trapped. Afraid that you’ll be seen as the enemy. Terrified that the cops will come. Surrounded by the unpredictable. Misunderstood.
That night, the universe forced me to take a big old draught of the medicine that is poured down the throats of black people every single day, and I didn’t like it. Not even a little bit. In fact, it made me feel sick.
But in terms of enlightenment, it probably did me good.
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