We were on our way to dinner. A few blocks from my apartment. It was chilly out. My date, a beautiful, tall, white woman, was in lockstep beside me, grasping at my right bicep with both hands. There were a lot of pedestrians in the area. An unusual amount for a typical night, but not for a Saturday night. There was a show going on at the concert hall we walked past five minutes prior. I was telling a story, in mid-sentence when three young white men approached us on sidewalk. They appeared to be college-aged, and somewhat inebriated. It was just after 9PM.
As they were passing, the one closest to me punched me in my left shoulder, the way you would punch someone you know. At the same moment he said, “What’s up my nigger.”
And with that statement, my mind was placed in an immediate state of shock. I couldn’t continue to walk. The sentence that I was just in the middle of was wiped from my tongue. As my head swiveled my body around in his direction, pulling my date around with me, I said, “Oh, hell no!”
Hundreds of thoughts passed through my mind in that instant. These where the most dominant thoughts:
- How was I going to kick all three of their asses?
- What’s my date going to think of me if I suddenly go into a rage?
- Are the police going to be called? What should I tell them when they find this guy knocked out, me standing over him untouched, and his friends either laid out next to him, or nowhere to be found?
- Can this be handled in a tactful manor?
- I’m in Texas, right?
- Damn, I haven’t eaten yet.
- Exactly how many milliseconds is it going to take me to get into striking distance?
While those thoughts were cycling through my head, a fourth young white man walking in the same direction that I was now facing approached me from behind and said, “Dude, I’m so sorry. He’s an idiot.” It was obvious that he knew the offender. It was also obvious that he was being genuinely apologetic.
I reassessed the situation:
- Can I kick four guys asses at the same time?
- What is my date going to think?
- How many milliseconds will it take now?
- Exactly, how hungry am I?
- He did hit me first, right?
- Could this be considered a hate crime?
I squared up the apologetic friend, grabbed his shoulders, looked him in the eyes and replied, “Smack him for me, before I do it myself.”
I turned back around and took a few steps. Taking a moment to breathe and shake off all the toxic energy that this situation just threw on me. I then turned to look for my date. She was beside me, visibly in shock. We rehashed the situation briefly, then continued on to dinner, returning to our previous conversation.
For the remainder of the evening, I tried to not let the incident bother me, but it kept seeping back into my consciousness. What followed was a day filled with subconscious processing, which in turn, led to this post.
Why I feel guilty
He was a jerk. There is not doubt about that. But I certainly missed an opportunity to teach him a lesson. The trick is, how do I accomplish that in a way that is more thought provoking than aggressive? I’m at odds with myself about that.
My initial thought goes like this:
If I kick his ass, and potentially the ass of his friends that try to defend him, he will think twice before doing something like that again. But would it prevent him? Probably not. It would more than likely fuel what ever beliefs he has internally that brought him to the point where he thought that this could be acceptable behavior. And then I’ve just initiated a bunch of guys into some white supremacy organization, unintentionally.
If I stop him be being mildly aggressive, and go all Jules Winnfield and start reciting Ezekiel 25:17 to him, I’m not sure I would have gotten my point across. That approach, however, would have been both dramatic and beautiful. It would have been thought provoking for the assailant and his friends. It would have left them confused and forced them to process.
There is also the thread in the back of my head that goes like this:
- He hit me first, albeit, not very hard.
- I could claim self-defense.
- This could certainly be considered a hate crime. Isn’t that federal?
- Can I really kick is ass and get a pat on the back from the cops?
How I disappointed my ancestors.
This is the hard part for me, and why I’m upset at myself.
I’m not convinced that being non-confrontational accomplished anything other than saving myself the opportunity to explain to the police why this guy is bloody and I’m not. But worse is the realization that it’s likely that this guy is going to do this again, to someone else. I gave him no incentive not to.
Unintentionally, I supported his false notion that it’s ok to treat people this way. I reinforced his notion of what the social power structure should look like. I unintentionally, granted him power over me. Power he most certainly doesn’t deserve. This is what kept me from sleeping last night. Which is also notable, because I actually lost sleep over this idiot, and if you know me, you know how much I love my sleep.
One thing I know, if the same thing were to happen to me again today, or tomorrow, my reaction would be different. Though I don’t know exactly how.