Reflecting on White Fragility: What do you mean I’m racist?

Reading the introductions, et al, to White Fragility brought up in my mind a particular incident I had in the early summer of 2020.

It had been hot and dry, with no rain for a few weeks. People were on edge with the protests and new discussions that were popping up. And people were getting tired of being in quarantine because of COVID.

In my city neighborhood, once Memorial Day hits, the fireworks begin. And they do not stop until at least Labor Day. It’s usually just a few here and there. You get used to it and can usually quickly distinguish between the fireworks and actual gunshots. (That being said, though, someone will inevitably panic and post about it in the neighborhood groups.)

2020 was a notoriously obnoxious fireworks year in my city, thanks to some new laws that were being exploited. Rumor has it that a lot of other cities were facing the same. It definitely didn’t help that most shows were canceled that summer because of COVID.

On this particular night, though, they were extra obnoxious. In fact, the one house around the corner was setting off a major show of what seemed to be more of a professional grade explosive and not the smaller “legal” ones. It was so dry outside that I was terrified sparks were going to float over to my house and start a fire, or at someone else’s. It had happened the previous summer a few blocks away by my friend’s house.

I checked in on the neighborhood groups and it looked like people were calling the police to report the illegal displays. So I did. So did many others. And we were all talking about it.

Almost immediately, I was being chastised for being racist. How dare I call and report on a holiday, especially when it was like people of colors doing it in celebration.

Wait, what?

Oh, it was Juneteenth. And for the first time ever, Juneteenth was actually really being acknowledged as a holiday. [Side note, I am still appalled at how many people didn’t know what Juneteenth is and still don’t. I learned about it several times throughout my entire school career.]

My gut reaction was anger. How dare you call me a racist for this! I honestly did not know what the date was. Thank you, coronavirus, for blurring all of the days together. And my first thought about the fireworks had nothing to do with the people setting them off. I didn’t even know who lived there at this point because it was a rental that often changed tenants. I was concerned for my house, just like any other time. Someone even asked me point blank if I would have made the same phone call on July 4th. Well, yes, especially if they were that big and it was that dry outside. And I have only done so once or twice under those conditions in the 17 years that I have lived here.

[Another side note: I ended up dogsitting for a friend out in the ‘burbs on July 4. The fireworks scene was also amplified out there, though nothing like in the city. And because it was still so dry, a house around the corner from where I was staying caught on fire.]

Why am I sharing this story? Well, as Diangelo introduces the anger and upset that white people have when being confronted with their own biases, it was exactly how I was feeling at that point that evening. And it was one of many times that I was forced to really look at myself and think and try to see the other side.

It was also one incident that I brought up on my personal Facebook profile. People did jump to my defense, including some Black friends and neighbors who were also distraught over the number of fireworks and feared damage to their homes. [More on that line of thinking in a later post.] Others were pointing out why it could be problematic, especially considering the current climate of our police department, who have made national news more times than I care to admit lately.

But conversations were starting. They continued in the neighborhood groups as well, with opinions crossing both sides of both what was the right thing to do as well as the color lines. It was just one of many more such conversations that continued for several more weeks and occasionally pop up still today, almost a year later.

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