Hey Guy Who Yelled, 'Hope You Have Fun Putting That N***** Back Into Office' at Me

"Hope you have fun putting that n***** back into office."

That's what a white man yelled at me in a grocery store parking lot this morning as he drove past me. I snapped and threw the venti chai I'd just bought at the Starbucks in the store at his car. Not the most compassionate or charming thing I've ever done but it was the last straw.

We've had four years of folks claiming that Obama's 2008 election meant we were in an era of postracial nirvana, all while nonstop racial dog whistles--from the birthers and Donald Trump, to the insinuations about Obama's mother being a whore who sleeps with black men across the globe, to Obama only becoming head of the Harvard Law Review because of affirmative action--became the norm.

Four years of pent up anger flew towards that man's car with that cup. He hit the gas pedal and sped away--my cup missed his car by inches.

I went home, took off my Depeche Mode t-shirt, dug out my Black is Beautiful t-shirt that I bought at the Studio Museum of Harlem, and headed to the polls.

I cried while I was in the voting booth, thinking of all my black ancestors who were called that word and couldn't do a damn thing about it. As much as it hurt to have that said to me, I thanked God that I could do something about it: I voted.

Today Bill O'Reilly got on FOX and stoked racial fear by telling viewers, "The white establishment is now the minority," and "it's not a traditional America anymore."

And in case viewers didn't quake in fear, O'Reilly made his dog whistle louder and scarier: "And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff," he said. "You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?"

Well, Mr. O'Reilly, you're right: I do want something since, as President Obama said tonight in his acceptance speech, ""The role of citizen does not end with your vote."

I want Americans to truly embrace citizenship so we can ensure the peace and prosperity of this nation--it's pretty clear that we need racial healing to get there and it's going take all of us doing our part.

In my faith there's a book called The Advent of Divine Justice and there's a passage in it that has shaped my world view on what we need to do to achieve racial unity in America more than anything else. 

White folks, it says, must "abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds."

And black folks have an equal responsibility to "show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds."

So no, not hurling racial slurs out car windows and not throwing chai at anyone, either. Clearly, I can do better, too.

You know what else I want? I want President Obama to be able to be black.

In his excellent essay, Fear of a Black President, Ta-Nehisi Coates quoted pollster Cornell Belcher as telling Gwen Ifill back in 2008, "The thing is, a black man can't be president in America, given the racial aversion and history that’s still out there. However, an extraordinary, gifted, and talented young man who happens to be black can be president."

As Coates wrote, "His is the perfect statement of the Obama era, a time marked by a revolution that must never announce itself, by a democracy that must never acknowledge the weight of race, even while being shaped by it. Barack Obama governs a nation enlightened enough to send an African American to the White House, but not enlightened enough to accept a black man as its president."

Can we accept a black man as the President of the United States of America? Can we make the commitment to work on the racism in our hearts so we can truly move forward? We don't need four more years of the exhausting, race-based poison that's infected this nation, that's for sure.

As someone who grew up with a black mother and white father--who've been married over 40 years--I know first hand how beautiful racial unity really is. I want that for all of us. C'mon, friends, let's do better.


Phyllis said…
It's 3 a.m. on the East Coast and I'm still awake. I'm up because I watched Obama's acceptance speech and I'm awake because I just read your post. Of the hundreds of responses swirling around in my head and heart, I will write only this: what will it take for the man in the car to be ready to abandon his inherent (and very conscious)sense of superiority? What will motivate him to change his patronizing attitude and seek intimate association with black folks? Do we try to hunt him down and convince him that his spiritual health is at stake? Or do we just focus on people who want to transform themselves and their communities, and leave the man in the car to his fate? People are always asking me and my husband how we deal with overt racists when we're doing our racial healing work, and I answer that they don't come to hear us speak. The people who show up at our talks are ready to engage in a healing process. But I'm asking myself now - and maybe this is my own rage speaking - if that's a cop-out. I believe that the establishment of unity and justice is inevitable, that it is the plan of God that we will all eventually acknowledge our oneness. But in the meantime, what do we do about the guy in the car? What would I - a white woman - have done if I'd been standing next to you in the parking lot? I talk the good talk about meeting hatred with love and calling on a spiritual rather than an emotional response in racial situations, but honestly, I don't feel very loving towards the guy. Yet in your post you call us all to a higher ground. This is why I can't sleep tonight.

I honor you for choosing to share these painful moments. Your willingness to keep teaching, in the face of such hostility, is a huge source of courage to me. May you always be protected from violence.
nick said…
The guy is an imbecile. As a white man, I'm really sorry you have to put up with that sort of crap day in and day out, Liz. Maybe he'll mellow one day and realise a black President really isn't that bad after all. Or maybe he'll get more and more bitter and eat himself up.

Of course you could have replied "Hope you have fun putting that n***** (nutter) into office."
Zombie Joe said…
A well-written sentiment and an excellent message. Were I anywhere in LA I would be the first in line to replace your Venti chai for you. I didn't throw hot drinks, but I did get out and vote. And I cheered as loudly as anyone at the results. Admittedly I was equally as happy to see Tammy Baldwin take the seat as well. ;)
No Labels said…
Sorry you had to go through that type of stupidity.
Shaista said…
You are awesome. Simple as that. Only wish we could vote, we who live outside America and are green with envy at your beautiful President and his extraordinary wife.
Shame you wasted your chai, but he won't forget your action.
Sometimes we have to react fully, completely. The guilt that comes later is a measure of our humanity.
Buy another chai, and with each sip, smile wide- today was a great day!
Arlene Gibbs said…
Wow. 2012 in L.A. someone felt comfortable enough to yell that to you? WTF?

I have no words.
Declan said…
And Bill should check his last name and know better. Same with every right wing nut job with an Irish name, of whom there are too many over here. They would last ten minutes if they spewed their hateful bullshit in Ireland. Actually they would explode as we have universal healthcare and socialism isn't a dirty word. Bill and Co are an embarrassment to their heritage.

Well done on throwing the venti chai. It is the best thing to do with such a foul bevarage. Blech. :)
Hautemommie said…
I admire you Liz as a black woman, as a fellow mother, a Los Angeles resident, for your unapologetic candor. I grew up in a predominately white community as a kid and it was difficult to bear at times. Yesterday I watched as many of those people took to FB to share their feelings regarding the election. I could not help but thinking, "What do these same people genuinely think of me?" Do they call me these names? Do they think all I want out of life is a handout? It pains me, angers me, and frustrates me that there are people in this country so stuck on what America is "supposed" to look like that they cannot embrace what it has become. My prayer is that people can work together to make this country the best place for us all to reside.
Captain Morgan said…
Well said, across the board.

Also, I love that you were rocking a Depeche Mode tshirt.
Really well written. I think you are a wonderful human being.
RedHotJoe said…
Please understand racism is going away slowly and this guy does not represent any race but rather a mindset of an idiot.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks so much for such a generous response--and for all of you who emailed me SBUX gift cards, you didn't have to do it, but thank you for the gesture.
Lisa Blah Blah said…
Wow, that's pretty cool that you are singlehandedly responsible for putting our president back in office! High five on that. Now, if you could just get working on the economy, I'd appreciate it, mmm-kay?

That guy and his ilk are a big reason I moved away from the Los Feliz/Silverlake area of Los Angeles, sorry to say. I never posted about it but I could tell you some heartbreaking stories of how the hipster white family across the street was the popular house on the block for all the kids to play at...except my sweet little brown baby. Just typing that made a hot flush rise up over my face and brought me back! Girl, someday we need to sit down for a cup of chai together and vent!
Liz Dwyer said…
I ask myself that, too. We need laws because they're just but according to the laws on the books racism is illegal. Yet we know so many hearts have not changed. I'm reminded of a story my mom once told me of KKK folks showing up for Race Unity Day. Short version is that there was nothing anyone could say to change what they believed. You have to start with the folks who are willing and then hope there's a ripple effect. And yes, may I be protected from violence.

It's likely that unless something happens to profoundly shift his POV, he'll dig in his heels more. I wish I knew what that something was.
Liz Dwyer said…
Zombie Joe,
First of all, best online handle ever. Second of all, thanks for the offer and thanks for going out and vote. That's what REALLY matters.

No Labels,
Thanks so much for the sentiments.

Yes, it was an incredible day. Very kind of you to say--I haven't bought another chai yet--I might wait till Saturday when I can really enjoy it.

Oh yes. I'd say the only difference between here and Chicago is that I don't get harassed by cops as much here--which is ironic given that back home LA has that rep as being worse.

Seriously, all the struggles and hatred from the British and everyone else--all the name calling and prejudice Irish folks have endured, he should really know better. Bill's embarrassing.

That's my prayer, too. I so appreciate your thoughtful words. I am with you--when I hear people starting with their racial microagressions, I always figure that when they're in a less diverse and more private setting theu let their feelings fly. Stay strong--we can make change--I can feel it.

Captain Morgan,
ALWAYS rocking a DM shirt, even if it was, ahem, one of the bootleg ones from the last tour. The bootleg shirts were actually nicer than the legit ones!

Devonsaurus Rex,
You are very kind to say so. Thanks.

Methinks he's an idiot who happens to be also be racist. Sadly enough.

Anonymous said…
People like you who focus on Obama's race and not his awful policy are what's making this country go to hell. You are a racist hiding behind the guise of something fighting racism. You are worse than the man who called Obama a nigger because you try to manipulate people into siding with you.
baiskeli said…
Wow!, that sucks! What is wrong with people?

And oh, you seen to have attracted a troll ('anonymous').
Anonymous said…
I admire your writing, perspective, and articles. If I can share a little of my perspective on this article. My parents, a mix from Arab to Greek, Jewish to Native American and several other thing in between, raised us in a world where we fit into the Caucasian category, mostly. Because our skin tones vary from pale to olive, we were always considered 'not quite white', in many circles. People could make heartless comments, but we survived those. I didn't even get it!
My father marched with the black panthers and brown panthers for civil rights, in L.A. in the sixties. In our secular household, my father made sure we understood Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was a visionary and a national leader, to be emulated and admired. I am not trying to compare any of my experiences to what you or your parents might have gone through, but to us MLK was more important than an elected official because he rose to prominence, not through financial backing of lobbyists or a political parties backing, but with his words. He came from the people. Black or white he encouraged Americans to stand, to march for civil rights. These civil rights make a difference for us all.
Flash forward to 2012, the day I voted for Obama, for the second time. I'm wearing my 'I voted' sticker and am in a late night line at a supermarket. A man in line behind me is cheerful and boisterous, I turn to look at the celebratory commotion, he looks at me and states, 'Don't worry, I'm black, but I'm not going to hurt you.' He then looks at my sticker and says, 'Too bad we won, right.' Insinuating that I voted for Romney. I just moved along. I am not angry. It didn't make me wish I could change my vote. I didn't need to show him the Obama sticker I got for my contribution to his campaign, but it did hurt.
I'm sharing this because I want you to know, just 'cause one ass-wipe taunts you with racism, don't respond in like. Instead of throwing on a shirt that further segregates us, that allows us to be defined by such hatred. He was not worth your coffee. Instead look for the people that are standing with you, regardless of our skin color. These racists want us to feel as if we're too different to ever get along, but we know, without a doubt, that's not true. We are deeper than the color of our skin. We might never change the racists mind, but there's enough of us here that are all ready making a difference, that are part of the change, that we could look at those fools and even have a little empathy because they don't have any idea of the 'wonderful' that they are missing. It is our actions that show the world who we are. Don't be dragged down to their narrow vision of life.
They're a small ship sinking in a sea of diversity. They're going to scream loud as they go down because, they unfortunately don't realize that they don't have to drown, they could swim with us.
I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character - MLK.

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