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!”
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.
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.
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.