A Heartbreaking Experience

Featured Image: Markus Spiske


It was just another typical autumn day in Arkansas. Autumn is arguably the most beautiful season in “The Natural State.” The overabundance of nature, coupled with the cleanliness of the Northwest portion, leaves one in awe of their surroundings. Trees of all sizes and shapes shed leaves of all hues and shades, inevitably ending up in mounds on lawns and walkways, in driveways, and pretty much everywhere else. Cars whisk them off of windshields and into streets, creating mini funnels and swirls that passersby on foot get to admire before said leaves retreat to their original postings — back in driveways and on sidewalks. And that’s just a description of leaves in autumn. Imagine how picturesque sunsets are during the end of a long, eventful summer day in an abundance of quality nature.

As breathtaking as Arkansas is in the summertime, it was still a fall day. I walked into that Walmart store, a man on a mission. My mission: to gather some supplies for my vehicle, a 2008 Honda Accord. It was my first car, the vehicle I still drive to this very day. Anyone who purchased their first vehicle on their own, like I did mine, understands the sentimental attachment to something as monumental as a first car. For me, the attachment ran deep enough to rival the two intimate relationships my car had survived. In short, I took, and still take, precise care of “Alicia.” I could feel my excitement swelling as I rounded the corner to the vehicle maintenance section of the store. After picking up the supplies I needed, a content smile on my face, I headed toward self-checkout — but not before making a detour to the housewares section to pick up a few car air fresheners. And that’s when I had my heart broken.

Items in tow, I came across two of the most gorgeous youths I’d ever seen before. They were both Caucasians, probably around five or six-years-old. As I smiled at them, I couldn’t help but see the fear in their eyes. Surprisingly, this didn’t throw me for a loop. I should note that as a dark-skinned African-American male, I’m very used to this response. Not everyone can appreciate melanin; some see it as something to be feared, others see it as something to be loathed, but I see it as a bittersweet blessing, one that keeps me free from harm due to the sun’s rays — but overly exposed to some of mankind’s hateful ways. So when I saw their fear, I immediately dismissed them as another group of melanin-fearing individuals. Aware that this might be wrong, I then thought they may be intimidated by my height; I am 6’3 after all. Sadly, neither of my assumptions were accurate.

“Sit still, a black person is coming!” came out of the mouth of the eldest of the two children, a handsome blue-eyed boy. He and his sister then proceeded to become so rigid and stiff one could argue they’d already experienced rigor mortis. I couldn’t help myself; I stopped right in my tracks and looked them square in their eyes. The fear they exhibited was worse than what I usually experience. It seemed embedded in the very fabric that was their DNA, almost as if it were a universal truth that black people are to be feared. I wondered how many African-Americans suffered a similar fate as mine when coming into contact with these or other children, and how many of them felt their heart break after experiencing what I did. I walked into that store excited. I walked out somewhat bitter.

If I could talk to the parents of these kids, I would tell them that the way they’re raising their children is part of what breeds hate in America. Many of us are convinced that racism ended the moment Obama was anointed president, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not when parents teach their children to fear other ethnic groups solely based on their complexion. I would urge them to see beyond the color of a person’s skin and get to know them as individuals. I would ask them what they gain by instilling values in their kids that separate and segregate. I would shed light on how the pain, discrimination, preconceived notions, prejudice, and racism play in the minds of minorities like myself and how doing so can adversely affect one’s mental health. I would ask them if they wanted their children to be the subjects of constant negative propaganda. These are just some of the innumerable ways minorities such as myself fall victim to the opinions and mannerisms of the majority.

America’s landscape is changing. By 2050, for the first time in this country’s history, minorities will make up the majority. Intolerance is becoming less and less acceptable. Rather than mending hearts as a result of experiences like these, why not avoid stereotyping to begin with? Maybe then America will be able to achieve its said greatness, free from the shackles of hate that have weighed this country down for generations. Sounds like a “great” place to start to me.

Paul Marsh

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