By Kim Hill, Bed-Stuy resident
“I’m gonna lay down my burdens… down by the riverside, and I ain’t gonna study war no more…”
My 7-year-old son was singing this during his evening bath time. It was a song he had just learned at school for the MLK assembly. And what a relief it was to hear him singing that, after the morning we’d had– a morning, unlike any other I’d experienced in the “new” Bed-Stuy.
Just 13 hours earlier, we were driving up Myrtle Ave, headed to school. Kids were on scooters while merchants opened their doors to neighborhood regulars en route to work. It’s a cultural intersection, post-gentrification, where loosies (loose cigarettes) at bodegas have been replaced by $6 cartons of almond milk.
As we pulled up to a stoplight, something hit the side of my car– it sounded like a flying squirrel? … I opened the door, praying I didn’t hit a small animal. What I saw instead was a white male, mid-30s, hipster vibe, angrily glaring at me with an adorable dog in a Sherlock Holmes raincoat by his side:
“You fucking splashed me!” he screamed from across the street. I stepped out of the car and asked him if he threw something at me? He continued to berate me and exclaimed, “I’m soaking fuckin’ wet!”
And he was. But as far as I was aware, all I did was drive my car down a street, which was wet from the melting snow. Still, I stepped out of my car, and with no proof I had anything to do with it, I apologized.
Before closing my door, I asked, “Did you throw something at my car?” He had no answers. And to avoid going down a rabbit hole, and because I was a black woman confronting a white man with my young son watching from the back seat, I decided to get back into my car. As he walked in the other direction, I looked back to him and yelled, “This feels like some white supremacist shit! But remember, it’s still BedStuy!”
As I climbed back into my car, I began to question whether I had responded in the best way, but before I could sit with that feeling, my son asked, “What actually hit our car?” I stepped out again, and this time, inspected. I was horrified at what I saw– about 5 clumps of feces stuck to my driver’s side door!!
Did this man actually throw his dog sh** on my car, I thought?
Furious, and without hesitation, I jumped back into my car, made a u-turn, as the tears welled up in my eyes. I was disbelieving, angry and humiliated! All I knew was, there was no way I was going to be left cleaning feces off of my car!
I caught up to him two blocks away. I pulled over, and I yelled to him to stop! I jumped back out of my car, and we were face-to-face. I was calm but full of emotions that ranged from disgust to that thing– is there a word for it?– that thing that tugs at your dignity, at your very humanity. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I’m certain that’s why I felt uneasy. It was tugging at my humanity.
After he started complaining again about being “soaking fuckin’ wet,” I pointed to my son in the back seat and I reminded him that the very behavior his white privilege afforded him, my child could never imagine getting away with in his wildest dreams. My son, as a young black man, could never pursue a white woman, throw feces at her, degrade and scream at her in broad daylight in front of her child, and then casually walk away, comfortable he would make it home unscathed and without anyone calling the cops.
That would not be the likely outcome for my son or any person of color. The cavalier attitude that he could so easily disrespect a woman and her child in broad daylight and expect no repercussion, are the things white privilege is made of.
Still, he went on to point out that he was, take a guess… “soaking fuckin’ wet!” And that’s when I presented him with two options: He was going to clean every ounce of the shit he hurled onto my car, or I was calling the police and reporting this as a hate crime. I assured him my son will never witness his mother clean shit that a white man threw at her, and that I’d have divine favor by having an accountable cop and judge throw the book at him in the same way he threw that shit at me.
And that was the first moment I saw any accountability from this man. It wasn’t when I apologized for accidentally splashing him when I drove down the street. It wasn’t when he saw me in tears. It wasn’t when he saw I was a female, nor that my child was with me. But when I said I’d call law enforcement and file a hate crime, his entire demeanor changed. That was the defining moment, which resulted in what can be seen in this video:
In closing, I am clear that getting out of the car was not wise. I am clear I am not a match for any man in an altercation that could turn physical or God forbid fatal. I can’t say for certain this man pursued me because I was black. But I am clear, that when a black woman stepped out of the car, he was not at all motivated to rectify his wrong. In fact, there was no sense of urgency to leave the scene at all.
He walked away with no concern for any consequences. And that is why diaspora descendants pay a high price in the form of emotional currency when we allow people to call us monkeys, niggers and say we’re from “shithole” countries. It’s a heavy weight that manifests into emotional and psychological injury that we’re forced to just swallow and live with, and there’s no pill or prescription for that.
Ultimately, I feel that man and I got somewhere that day. I sincerely do. In some odd way, through our juxtaposition, and in those final moments of silence, as he cleaned off my car, we figured some things out and I’m grateful neither party was physically harmed.
I’m not saying I handled the situation pitch perfect. I know I have personal work to do on my triggers, as I’m now forced to navigate the heightened climate of racism and the disgraceful behaviors deeply rooted in sexism.
But what I’m most clear of is this: I won’t be cleaning up any shit left for me by white men of privilege– not in BedStuy, nor at the White House. That’s not my portion.
I will continue to lay my burdens down by the riverside, as I do my best to keep my humanity in tact.