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I learned a few things while broken down in traffic the other day.
When I say “broken down” I mean broken. One of the front wheels fell off the car. As if this wasn’t fun enough it was downtown right at the start of rush hour. I called a tow truck and then spent the next three hours standing in the road about 50 yards behind the immobile vehicle trying to direct traffic into the other lane. I may need to remind some people that I live in Philadelphia. This is the land of the car horn and I’m pretty sure the term “curses like a sailor” should be updated to “curses like a Philly motorist”. When I told the mechanic what I had done he looked at me in horror and said, “I woulda ran and hid around the corner telling folks, that aint my car.”
With that as a backdrop, here is what I learned:
Men like to diagnose problems.
When I got to the mechanic I brought with me 7 votes for a broken rocker arm, 5 votes for broken axle, and 9 votes for busted ball joint. It was the ball joint.
Women like to empathize. “Ohhhh honey,” was the most common phrase.
You cannot tell the race of a person by what they drive. I saw plenty of black people in trucks with big tires and white folks with shiny rims. There was no pattern, no trend.
Here is the big lesson…
Most people are very cooperative if they understand what is going on.
I had broken down right in front of an intersection, thankfully not in the intersection, on a two lane, one way city street. Traffic was backing up. I was standing in the middle of the lane trying to make eye contact with drivers and motioning them over into the open lane. I was clearly not a traffic cop, they don’t wear seersucker ties with tan pin striped pants (that’s another story). Occasionally I got the middle finger or an earful as people approached, followed by an apology as they saw the state of the vehicle ahead. A bunch of people offered to help me push the car up on the sidewalk, till they saw the wheel and then usually exclaimed “Holy ---- !” followed by condolences.
Most people, the vast majority of people, simply nodded, put on their blinker, and tried to get in the other lane. Usually, someone would let them.
Every now and then someone would be on a cell phone, or be impatient, and would nearly run me over as they sped right up behind the immobile vehicle. They would then be forced to try and go around, without enough room to clear the back bumper. Watching someone have to make a three point turn in the middle of rush hour traffic is painful. This would back the line of cars up even further and tempers would boil. In these situations I would walk around talking with motorists explaining what happened and they would shake their heads knowingly and wait.
But over and over again it was obvious; people were O.K. once they understood.
I wish the NAACP, Jesse, Al, or anyone else who claims to be invested in equality could have been there. Here is the lesson.
There are still race issues that should be addressed in this country. Racism still exists and discrimination still has affects. The biggest difference between today and 40 years ago is less people understand. There are no fire hoses and police dogs. No one is standing in the doors of the school house and few are kicked out of restaurants. The battle lines are hard to see. Many, if not most, white Americans don’t even know these battles still need fighting.
There is no one standing and directing traffic, explaining the situation, and people are getting mad. White people are sitting in a long line of traffic and have no idea that up ahead, the wheels have come off. We are all speeding ahead and will soon find ourselves staring at emergency flashers with no room to get in the other lane. Then what?
Today in the world of race relations there are those, individuals and institutions, who are trying to fight the fight. Lawyers, watch dog groups, campaigners, philanthropists, social workers, the list goes on. Some quietly go about business trying to do good, others scream loudly about injustice but rare is the one who explains what it’s all about.
The issues facing race and the affects of racism (both today’s and yesterday’s) have so much to do with people’s hearts and minds that it would make sense that these should be the targets. But they aren’t.
Sadly most are fighting today’s war with the weapons of days past. Looking for legislation, or filing a lawsuit. To the white person 20 cars back, it looks like black people are just tying up traffic. They don’t know why, they can’t see what’s going on, and all they know is they are trying to get somewhere. No one is walking back informing people that the lane ahead has a broken car in it.
Most of us have run around the corner saying “that aint my car.”