Fear Flash - New Haven Advocate

Written by Laurie Wiegler Wednesday, April 07, 2010 2:22pm The pitfalls of liberal white guilt

 

NEW HAVEN — My ancestors on my mom’s mom’s side were slave owners. We have the paperwork. It’s horrifying to read, and yet, I doubt many of these ancestors thought much of the situation. These same individuals would go on to fight in the Civil War for the Confederates.

I’m no expert, but my guess is such a lineage leaves people such as myself a tad guilty. True, Mom married a Jew so that makes me only a half-guilty WASP who descends from slave-owners. Yet that was not enough to keep me from talking longer and more closely than I should have with a strange black man at the bus stop on May 18, 2007, at 9 p.m. across the street from Union Station.

I was exhausted and he was the only one around to whom I could ask: “Know when the bus comes?”

“Soon,” I believe he mumbled.

Tall, quiet and oddly non-forthcoming, I thought.

Not rude. Just inside himself.

“That’s good,” I said, closing my eyes to let the day’s stresses release. I had just started a new job in lower Manhattan, and the commute and steep learning curve made me dog-tired each day. While I was thrilled with my new position, anyone in his right mind knows spending six hours a day on a train fully depletes one’s energy.

Then a moment of standing slumber became a knock to the ground: I was being yanked hard by

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Fear Flash - New Haven Advocate
Written by Laurie Wiegler Wednesday, April 07, 2010 2:22pm -

the purse around my right shoulder, quickly, exaggeratedly, like a mean cartoon videogame. It didn’t seem real. “What?!” I shrieked.

He pulled me further, further, toward what we white people like to call “the projects.” The strap on my new black purse, bought at Macy’s on my new editorial salary, finally and mercifully broke. The quiet black man now fled into the night, into the projects.

Then I came to my senses. I turned around.

The rest was a slow motion mix of talking to the police and the ambulance drivers: “No, I don’t want to go to the hospital! I want to go home and make sure my cat’s OK!”

But they had other ideas for me.

“We’ve found some guys near here who match the description. Could you come with us and try to ID them?”

I hesitated.

“You won’t have to get out of the car.”

OK, OK, I’d go.

Did I have a choice? It didn’t appear that I did.

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Fear Flash - New Haven Advocate
Written by Laurie Wiegler Wednesday, April 07, 2010 2:22pm -

I was unable to ID the four young black men they cornered near there, just as I was unable to identify my assailant from a group of black-and-white photos delivered to me — along with my broken purse and its contents — a week later. Seems all he’d gotten was about $31.

“He didn’t even use the credit card or try to?” I asked.

“There’s a paper trail so they don’t do that,” she told me.

I wished so much I could, with 100 percent certainty, pin the right criminal — a grown-up version of my childhood pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey? — but I was not about to send an innocent man to prison.

“We think we know who it is. Same m.o. Same knock and drag to a girl from Massachusetts last year,” I was told.

She had photographed her bruises, I’d been told, and so I did the same. It was, I think, two or three days later before I noticed the huge deep blue welt on my left side. “So that’s how he knocked me down,” I realized. With so much focus on my head contusions, no one had asked about my side. I walked with a limp for a week or two.

One of my ex-boyfriends said, “It’s like in Crash. She trusted those guys, but they attacked anyway.”

In the days that followed, I was not given quick and seamless access to what I really needed: a grief counselor. I was, instead, hooked up with a Connecticut victim’s association and asked to fill out paperwork, and wait.

I didn’t get it. I just didn’t get it.

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Fear Flash - New Haven Advocate
Written by Laurie Wiegler Wednesday, April 07, 2010 2:22pm -

What part of “I could have been killed?” did they not understand? Exasperated and concerned with my commitment to my job, I just didn’t follow up. Instead, I allowed the fright of taking showers and worrying that a huge black man would suddenly rip the curtain and attack me — a real-life Psycho — to overwhelm me and then gradually, in coming months, dissolve — sort of.

Thunderstorms and eerie creaks in the floor oftentimes become the boogey-man.

Some of the fear is useful. I hold my purse tightly, rarely go out alone after dark, and am careful whom I talk to.

Yet now I startle easily. I am spooked by the most genteel of young men speeding by on bicycles or gliding by on skateboards. My pulse races if asked for directions, especially if the inquisitor is dark-skinned, tall and muscular.

Fear and a fertile imagination are a potent mix, and for writers such as myself … well, we can come up with all kinds of reasons why a man who no longer has our ID could have a vendetta against us to stalk us and be determined to kill us.

Of course, this guy didn’t want to kill me. He wanted money for drugs, and saw me as an easy target: a white, well-dressed middle-aged woman who, it seems, had the misfortune of being at the wrong place at the right time. And who, it would seem, had the audacity to give this guy the one thing others in my position would not have — the benefit of the doubt.

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