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Prejudice and hope

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The Observer desperately needs to relocate. Saturday morning we came upon a building that looked promising. The sign out front proclaimed "Now Leasing," with an arrow to the office. We strolled up to this high-ceiling joint, eager to scout a refurbished glimpse of "historic Little Rock." What we got was an unwelcome glimpse of history repeating itself.

The Observer has spent a few months howling in frustration over a bullying landlord. But in that overcast morning just across the freeway from Central High, we were reminded of how many people face incessant, systemic bullying every day. And because we, as witnesses, often sidestep these incidents, we are all complicit.

At the lovely apartments that we can no longer fathom leasing, the office was closed but the contractor was available. He's a large white guy in a large white truck, and he was happy to show us around. He took us through at least four apartments, proudly detailing amenities. He would have given us an even more extensive tour, but we were eager to get on with our search, and there was another man who showed up with questions. We thanked Mr. Contractor and said, "We'll get out of your hair so you can help this guy." We were a few steps away when we heard the man say, "I'd like to see the apartments and talk to someone about leasing," and Mr. Contractor said, "I'm sorry, I can't help you. You'll have to come back Monday." Nor did he offer the name and number of the leasing agent, the way that he did for us.

The Observer and co. were stunned. Maybe Mr. Contractor didn't want to spend his Saturday giving tours, but then, why did he have more time for us than we for him? What was the difference between us and the next guy? Well first off, the "next guy" was a man (who frankly appeared better-heeled than The Observer), and second of all, he was black. We were two young white women. So if The Observer and co. were given preferential treatment on account of either/or, that's creepy. And had this occurred in the presence of the leasing agent rather than the contractor, that's illegal. Our tour hadn't felt like a come-on. It seemed like Mr. Contractor genuinely hoped to interest us in the apartments, which leads us to the conclusion that certain races will be more welcome than others at this complex.

So this icky thing happened, and The Observer and co. didn't know what to do. We wanted to confront the contractor, but we didn't want to embarrass the other man. So we, in fact, did nothing. And we carried the weight of that nothingness, making our way home, our scouting appetite squelched, muddling over why, and when will it change, and how should we have responded?

Every day The Observer does things we regret and would rather not share. But as recent transplants and frequent, stupefied witnesses to similarly flavored events, The Observer and co. would almost argue that public shaming is the best way to convince people that hey, this isn't OK, among your peers or otherwise. We discussed and dismissed an open blog where people could ID perpetuators of discrimination by name and details. The likelihood of catfights and slander seemed high, and we were also selfishly concerned about jeopardizing our somewhat public jobs.

Despite attending a racially mixed school, The Observer didn't have a close friend of a different race until her early 20s. She is reminded of something that friend said about confronting evil and prejudice: "Whether you're dealing with yourself or others, you have to come from a place of love." And wanting to create that blog seemed to come from a place of self-righteousness and anger. Ultimately we concluded that we should have just spoken up on the spot. We wish that we had.

But as overwhelming as these issues seem, there are bright spots. Friday night The Observer attended a vigil for the victims of the Milwaukee Temple shooting. A couple hundred people gathered at the flagpole in front of the Capitol, representing an array of lifestyles, religions and races. We were there because we know Sikhism to be a peaceful religion, preoccupied with unity and charity, and because, under that flag, we know America (the dream) to be preoccupied with "liberty and justice for all." And maybe that's where we go for our answers — when people gather to collectively know these things, that is the when and the how. It's tiny, but it's hope.

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