When Hank was 9 or 10 he and another fella got in a fight at our neighborhood swimming pool. It was Saturday. The pool was packed with kids and the pool deck was packed with parents.
I could see the fight coming.
Some boys were playing “keep away” with one of those big bouncy balls…the kind that are held captive in large metal cages at the local convenience store, until someone pays the $.99 to set them free.
The anger finally showed up in the most obvious of ways with the bigger kid (let’s just say that wasn’t Hank) holding the smaller kid’s head (by default…Hank) underwater for an extended period of time. He was laughing while he did it.
The Mama Bear in me, known to leap small buildings and lift cars, jumped up and ran poolside. Pointing at each boy, I hollered in my best “military mom” voice…”You Two…OUT!”
The Big-Hold-Hank’s-Head-Under-the-Water-Boy gave one last push under to prove his point and slinked out of the pool. Hank walked slowly over to the steps.
I pointed to Hank and said…”YOU! Stand here!”
And then to the other boy whose name I cannot remember I said…”YOU. Here!”
I positioned each kid approximately three feet from the other…head on. We are gonna tackle this damn thing right here and now.
I turned to the bigger kid and said in a much calmer but still firm voice now…”Tell me what happened. I need you to use your “I statements.” He became noticeably scared of me…so I told him to hold on a minute. I went and got a pool chair to sit on so I was closer to eye level. “Okay…continue.”
He began…and just as Hank was about to share what was going on for him, big-kid’s father walked over. He interrupted what I thought was a fantastic exchange of listening and sharing…took the right arm of each boy and forced the hand attached to each…to shake.
“Ya’ll just need to shake and get over it.”
Hank looked at me. I looked at him. The two boys stopped talking, shook hands and went back to what they were doing before….separately.
They also never got over it. Hank never played with that kid again. As a matter of fact our days at the neighborhood pool began decreasing in number until eventually, we just quit going.
Yesterday I had dinner with a man I did not know a year ago. Patricke Ward has fast become one of my dearest comrades. For reference as to how we met or at least as a reminder, Patricke is the man, who several months ago, pointed out my white privilege right smack in the middle of a presentation I was making on the Red Boot Coalition. Here’s the link to that post if you would like to read it. https://mollybarker.com/2015/06/22/being-white-and-being-myself/
Patricke and I can talk about anything. And when I say anything…I mean it. Relationships, our work, our friends…but you can believe that after about ten minutes the conversation always goes deep.
And last night at dinner, was no exception. What topic took us under?
Patricke is angry. His story and the story of many of his friends includes experiences I read about, far too often in the media these days. Patricke is 6’3” and is also a black man. He’s a lot of other “things” too and before you go running off from what I’m about to share…please consider sticking around because Patricke isn’t angry at you.
He’s just angry.
The fear, judgment and resistance this man has come up against, in his life and in his story…requires him to constantly be on alert. The clothes he wears, the dialect he uses, the way he drives, the way he sits…Patricke’s experience has taught him that in order to be taken seriously, there’s a lot of stuff he has to think about that white folks take for granted, me included.
So I try my best to get it. I would be angry too.
As a matter of fact, when I started Girls on the Run…I was angry…VERY angry. It was 1996 and I was angry about the ways girls and women were portrayed in the media. I was so angry about having to play to a system that didn’t include the words that came so naturally to me, like love, empathy and compassion. I was angry about the mixed messages, the double standard…the “be sexy to be noticed but don’t be too sexy or you won’t be taken seriously.” I was angry about women in business being labeled as “bitchy or bossy” and women who chose to stay home being labeled as something else.
And so…while I can’t relate to Patricke’s anger from the race perspective…I CAN relate to his anger against a system…a system that perpetuates disparities and ways of being that don’t honor and celebrate all those who to the table because they show up in a wrapping…a body…that for reasons which extend long before I was born…eliminate me from the conversation.
I remember Hank and the kid at the swimming pool. “Shake and get over it.”
I wonder how different things might have been if the two of them had worked through the anger…instead of avoiding it…what they would have learned…the additional games of “keep away” that might have been played, the cookouts, the fun, the connection that comes when we don’t get over it…but get down into it…the real, the honest, the growth.
And so last night at dinner, Patricke Ward and I listened to each other. We shared from our hearts. We talked about all that anger…especially his. And while I realize it will take a long, long time to “get over it”…I’m learning that we can’t get over something…until the bridges over it are built.