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Some things haven't changed that much

I am in the first year of my eighth decade on this Earth.

I often ponder all the changes I have witnessed, but I also reflect on things that have remained the same. One specific incident exemplifies this.

I was in my 20s and grocery shopping with my friend Theresa. Her 18-month-old son, Brian, began fussing as we shopped, so I took him out of his mother’s cart and put him in mine. This appeased him, and we continued shopping. Theresa went her way, Brian and I went ours. When I headed to the checkout, I saw Theresa already in line with several other shoppers behind her, so I proceeded to the next register.

As I moved my cart in behind other customers, an older man in front of me turned and glared directly at me. The look in his eyes sent waves of sheer terror through my body. Instinctively I put my arms around Brian and pulled my grocery cart back, wondering if I had accidentally run into the man. I started to ask, and to apologize if I had, but he turned back around, never uttering a word.

Still perplexed, I bent down and whispered to Brian, “What a silly old man,” and as I looked into his precious face it became perfectly clear that man thought Brian was my son.

You see, Theresa and Brian are black. I'm white. And without knowing me from Adam, this man despised me simply because he thought I had borne a black man’s child.

My next thought was of Theresa. I turned to see whether she had witnessed this, but she was busily unloading her cart with her back to us. Apparently she hadn’t seen a thing, and I was thankful for that. I swore I would never tell her.

About halfway home from the store, Theresa turned and asked me if I had seen the way the man had looked at me.

“Oh, my gosh, Theresa, I didn’t think you had seen that,” I said.

She responded that she had and asked if I knew why he looked that way.

“I assume it was because he thought Brian was mine,” I said.

“That’s exactly why,” she agreed.

Theresa and I had never discussed race before. I had never thought of her as “my black friend.” She was my friend, and Brian was her son. But we talked about it a lot that day. I was fully aware of discrimination and racism, but for the first time in my life I had experienced it personally and had felt the threat that people of color and other minorities must feel every day of their lives, just because of who they are.

My siblings and I often talk about the past and about how much we have forgotten or remember differently. But the fear I experienced that day, and the sadness I feel for the things that have remained the same, will forever be crystal clear in my mind.

— Marti Hawes lives near Eagle Point.