I Expect Better Of You!

After walking for about an hour today, I decided to take a break by sitting in the outdoor seating area of a downtown San Jose coffee shop that is on a pedestrian walkway. As I turned into Paseo de San Antonio, two people with clipboards beckoned me to them. One said, “Fight racism through hip-hop.” I smiled, imagining myself performing hip-hop and said: “I wish I could!”

Paseo de San Antonio
Paseo de San Antonio by SergioΒ Ruiz via Flickr

Well, that did not go over well. I don’t think she saw the humour in it. In trying to find somewhere to sit I said “Not right now,” and the clipboard-holder admonished me: “I expect better of you on Martin Luther King Day!” Wow. Are you my mother? I think she was the last person to say they expected better of me, and that was about fifty-five years ago.

I decided not to sit outside because I did not want to engage in further conversation with this woman, so I sat inside the coffee shop for a few minutes to recharge my walking batteries. As I did so, I saw the two people with clipboards stop another woman. I watched as she listened to their pitch, took off her backpack to look through it, took out a card, and then ultimately used a phone, presumably to make a payment to their cause. It was at least five minutes before she was able to leave.

Paseo de San Antonio via Flickr
Paseo de San Antonio by Sergio Ruiz via Flickr

After I had sat long enough and realized I was taking up a seat needed by an actual customer of the coffee shop, I decided to continue walking home. It was difficult to do this without running the gauntlet of my hip-hop anti-racism would-be mother and her companion. As I stood in the store looking out of the window I soon saw my opportunity.

They had walked a short way from the coffee shop and were facing away from the door talking to someone else. “Now is my chance,” I thought, and I stepped purposefully outside. As I walked briskly in the opposite direction from the clipboards, I realized that this was taking me at least a block away from where I had intended to go, but it was worth it. As tired as I was, I didn’t want to deal with the people fighting racism, no matter how worthy their cause.

Paseo de San Antonio from Spur
Paseo de San Antonio by Sergio Ruiz via Flickr

The crazy part of this is that I probably would have contributed to fighting racism through hip-hop if only they had let me sit down for a few minutes. But given their sense of urgency and the presumptions made by the woman, all they did was to make me desperate to get away from them.

As I walked home I thought about what I might have said to disabuse the woman of her incorrect assumption about me, but nothing I could say would have convinced her that I, too, object to racism. I also object to condescension and bullying, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t in the right frame of mind for that discussion. And, truth be told, neither was I. I was still feeling like a chastened fifteen-year-old.



  1. Hi Anne! πŸ™‚

    Isn’t it strange and perplexing just how much we humans presume in a matter of minutes, perhaps seconds? Were the two fund-raising ladies young? Real young? I wonder if the rude frustration from her was a result of other San Antonians and Texans not responding to their approach—hopefully not the cause, huh? Then again, I am an 8th generation Texan living here (Dallas) in the state most all of my life so I do know typical Texas attitudes, that is ASSUMING those folks are born-n-raised here for at least 4-5 generations. Anne, some of our popular (international?) opinions, idioms, traditions floating around out there that try to sum up the state and Texas attitudes/personalities do hold some truth. πŸ˜„πŸ™„

    Perhaps she was having a bad day and wanted to go home? Who knows, huh? But the same applies for you too doesn’t it? There’s a LOT to be said for good social etiquette and polite ways of inquiring of a stranger’s day, right? ❀

    For your entertainment on just how bold, or rude we (young) Texans can be, πŸ˜‰ let me introduce you to one of my more satirical blog-post about this BIGGER THAN BIG (egos) Texas pride and presumption can fall flat on its face! πŸ˜† Oh my, when this event happened in October 2012 or 2013, I just could not stop laughing! I could not WAIT to write this blog-post about our Big Texas Symbol of "Manly Conservative Biggy-ness" got a HUGE dose of humble pie!!! 🀣 Click below to get a few chuckles:


    And Anne, on behalf of the not-so-polite state of Texas and Texans, as well as Texians, I/we apologize for that lady's brashness to you. πŸ˜‰

    • I should have clarified that this all took place in San Jose California. The two fund-raisers were a young man (possibly late teens or early 20s) and a woman who appeared to be in her early 30s.

      I once lived in Calgary Alberta where they have similiarly macho cowboy aspirations to your Big Tex. Once a year all the locals (who mostly work in downtown office buildings) bring out their big hats, fancy shirts, and cowboy boots to celebrate the Calgary Stampede.

  2. Wow, there were a lot of dynamics in that short interaction! I appreciated your observation that her admonishment of “you could do better than that…” took you back to your 15-year-old self with your mother. I have those moments too and look at them as an opportunity to do whatever internal re-do is needed to gain my feel-good-about-myself homeostasis. And that the clipboard holder was so presumptive about your reason for declining. It’s a fair amount of what’s plaguing Americans with our polarization. If you don’t agree, then you are obviously not in alignment with them.
    I recently read a book called “Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope” by Megan Phelps-Roper. I don’t know if you are familiar with the infamous Westboro Baptist Church group in Topeka, KS, but I live about 30 minutes from their compound. I am interested as this is a local issue, and to read about people who are able to leave what I consider a cult. So Megan’s memoir of growing up in the Westboro Baptist Church and finding her way to leave it made it a book I wanted to read. Plus she came to my town for a book-signing and I enjoyed hearing her speak. I didn’t buy her book and I am wishing now I had as it’s rich with insight. One thing I found intriguing is that her work now is to help people communicate and to be an activist for human rights. Also, she was able to leave her family and not hate them.
    I think when people such as your clipboard wielding street person, jump to conclusions and polarize, which diminished the chance of having a meaningful exchange.
    I was a social worker for 38 years, and the most important skill taught to me was in 1977, on being what they called an “active listener”. Whenever I made mistakes in my social work, I could almost always track it back to not being that active listener.
    And, I too, have walked farther to avoid an unwanted interaction.

    • Thank you for this thoughtful response, Lorna. Fortunately, I was able to chat with my sister about this event and she helped me regain my adult sense of self!

      I do know about Westboro Baptist Church and have read about their hostile antics. They are, indeed, a cult and as far from Christ-like as a church can get.

      For a person to leave any social or faith group is always hard. It means leaving all your friends and often family with only the hope of a better life somewhere else. Just reaching that point of a different possibility is difficult when you have been, more or less, brainwashed.

      As for my clipboard person, I don’t mind her misunderstanding me in that momentary exchange. I do, however, mind that she jumped to a negative conclusion about a complete stranger. I was too shocked and dismayed to try to clarify things, but in retrospect I probably should have. But, as I said, my 15-year-old self went into avoidance mode.

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