Color us sad.

We were born right smack-dab in the middle of the 20th century. Our entire lives have been full of national middle-class possibility. The Great American Dream was truly achievable, if not expected. The idea was so ingrained in us that we never thought consciously about it. Hard work was the key. As Americans, ideals were at our fingertips—the promise of equal opportunity for all, freedom, prosperity and justice. Right? We fully understood the power of that promise and took full advantage of our privilege. Privilege. Back then, we had no idea that being white had anything to do with anything. But now, we clearly understand that isn’t true. As most “people of color” would say at that time, those years may have seemed more like an American nightmare.

The President of the US at the time was Harry Truman, who signed an Executive Order calling for military integration of races in 1948. Shortly after that, in 1954 the Supreme Court declared an end to Jim Crow laws that allowed separate schools for black and white students. That seminal case, Brown v. The Board of Education, signaled the beginning of the end of state-sponsored segregation. 

The famous, Ben’s Chili Bowl

So we were born into the era of desegregation—at least that was our assumption. Seventy-three years later we caught a first-hand glimpse into a different perspective, through a virtual reality documentary film, “Traveling While Black.” The Canadian/American film was directed by Roger Ross Williams and released in 2019. It was both shocking and powerful for us. The film was set in Ben’s Chili Bowl, a well-known diner in Washington DC. Through the magic of 3-D headsets, we sat virtually with three African-American people in a 4 person booth, listening as they talked about their experience as traveling citizens. It seemed so realistic. Clearly, we had lived in different times, places and cultures. The truth is, we were fellow Americans, but to those people of color, we were inhabitants of totally different countries on opposite sides of the earth. What they said was disturbing and deeply sad.

1940 edition

In 1936, during the era of Jim Crow laws mandating segregation, New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green wrote the “Green Book” to help those of color navigate the hostile and often dangerous American highways and byways. The automobile generally symbolized freedom and made leisure travel possible. Disturbed with “separate, but unequal” public transportation, African-Americans bought cars, if they could, to gain some degree of control over their lives. But even though they could travel, they were often met with a hostile experience—routinely denied access to motels, restrooms, diners, and all other necessities while on the road. The “Green Book” became an essential guide to avoid “discomfort, discrimination, segregation and insult,” as George Schuyler wrote in 1930. It truly was a stressful period in American history where unconscionable discrimination was openly enforced until 1965 when many of the laws were finally overturned. But that certainly wasn’t the end of disdain and discrimination.

Tamir Rice 2002 -2014

Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice sat across the table from us at Ben’s Chili Bar, recounting the details of the tragic day when her son died. Everyone in the diner respectfully turned to listen—you could have heard a pin drop. On November 22, 2014 a 12-year-old African-American boy, full of promise, was killed in Cleveland, Ohio. A  26-year-old white policeman, Timothy Loehmann, was the on-duty officer that day. Rice was carrying a replica toy gun which was all the reason Officer Loehmann needed to justify shooting him. The event happened in the blink of an eye. The squad car pulled alongside Tamir, who visibly shrugged his shoulders. In the police camera footage that’s all we saw. But Loehmann responded to the shrug with gunshots. Tamir died the following day. 

Samaria Rice recounting the tragic events

Our experience that afternoon in the Chili Bowl was terribly uncomfortable, as we sat there alongside the community of color. We were riveted to every word painfully shared by Samaria Rice. All eyes were focused on her and also on us, her booth-mates and the only white people in the room. They looked to us for minute indications of shock, sadness, empathy, solidarity—humanity. Whether traveling across our country or even within their own neighborhoods, people of color have told similar heart-wrenching accounts. Tamir’s story is but one sad tale of events—amid countless insults and injury over centuries. We hope that the “regulars” at Ben’s Chili Bowl who were peering into our faces, saw the empathy and humanity they longed to see.

The hope for shared humanity was the overarching message in the “movie. “The “Green Book” remains an important historic reminder that change and promise may be slow in coming, but they are always possible. We must believe that—and make it so.

 

Related Story and Music


End of the Line,” written in 2005 also explores the importance of moving beyond a dualistic world-view to become more accepting of differences; less focused on division; interested in breaking down barriers—simply more inclusive. Feel free to check it out if you’re so inclined.

My body felt like lead. “Who are you? What do you want.”

Somewhere in the stillness of the night, I became aware that I was dreaming. Or was I?

Okay. I’ll admit it. I had a really tough day! A good night’s rest is often the best remedy when the “toughness” sets in, so we hit the hay before the clock even turned to double digits—which is really early for us. We usually see every double digit, and witness single digits again before calling it a day.

I was sure that sleep would offer me an escape from the day’s stresses—at least I hoped so. Usually deep and satisfying sleep is often a refuge. This night began with promise, but shifted abruptly shortly after drifting off. I steadied my breathing and remember the sensation of falling asleep and releasing the day’s worries. I was right on track in the beginning. I shifted my weight to the far side of the bed to give Cheryl and our little doxy Sara more space. I was hovering in twilight sleep.Then suddenly I wasn’t!  

Fast asleep

My nightmare began. I dreamed I was asleep in a long narrow room totally unfamiliar to me. All alone on a skinny single bed, I was peacefully slumbering, laying close to the far corner of the room opposite the door. Suddenly, the door opened and someone or something entered. In the darkness with dim shadows I saw it silently moving toward me. It was a pale creature, formless, yet weighty. Startled, I had the urge to wake myself from this terrifying encounter. I tried to sit up, but couldn’t move either my legs or arms. They felt like lead. Still groggy, I called out, “Who is it and what do you want?” But my voice was as frozen as my arms and legs. From my lips I heard a low guttural, creepy sound something like: “Bhough eez zhit ehhhh bwaht zhou whwanndt?” Needless to say, there was no response from the silent intruder. I struggled again to get up and confront whatever it was, but it just kept floating/sweeping toward me as if sadistically enjoying my night-time terror.

The “Entity”

The “Entity” swooped low at the foot of the bed, then circled around me moving ever-faster. Then it approached the corner of the bed close to my head. I could feel an icy cold air following its movement. I tried again and again to simply turn my neck to see it more closely, but all efforts were in vain. I absolutely could not. It sensed my growing fear and somehow hovered both behind and beneath me. Dimensions and depth blurred. In a fit of desperation, I mustered every ounce of strength, flailing in the air with my hands over my head trying to disrupt its sinister plan. In my last best hope, I took one great vanquishing swipe into the darkness.

I was jarred into semi-consciousness with the sound of a heavy steel lamp crashing onto the wood floor. I bolted upright, disoriented. At that point, the bright ceiling light came on, blinding me. Suddenly Iris was up and on high alert. She was awakened by the crash, but of course, the “Entity,” was nowhere to be found. The only source for the sound clearly fell to me. Boy, did I ever feel ridiculous!

At breakfast we gathered around the table to review the night’s events. I told Cheryl the sordid details of the intruder’s attack. Always objective and curious about dream symbolism, she matter-of-factly said that the “Something-Entity” may have represented my “Shadow” coming to challenge me. Would I control it or would it control me? My response was the same as always, to fight back. That is my fatal mistake, it seems. To disown the shadow sets up battle lines, as a war ensues that can never be won—by anyone. And, once again, I sadly end up attacking and destroying my own “LIGHT.”

Integration

Perhaps this little night-time vignette has finally made it clear. The only way for the LIGHT to prevail, is to INTEGRATE with the shadow. The power of the shadow is in its ability to provoke. If I’m not provoked, perhaps it will settle down. “Wholeness” is the only viable strategy. I finally got it! Then, I walked into town to the hardware store to get the necessary supplies to fix the broken table lamp.

Moral of the story: Rest assured, the LIGHT always wins in the end—eventually! Why not just let it happen sooner, rather than later?