The following account was described by a Holland resident during the summer of 2010.
Every morning, I go to the same gas station in Holland. A few weeks ago, my routine was turned upside down, by an act of racism.
As I was making coffee, I could see out the large front window. I noticed a black man helping a young boy put gas in his car. It brought back memories of my own son, when he was younger.
I got in line to purchase my coffee. The black gentleman entered and stood behind me. I turned and said to him, "Your son reminds me of my son, when he just HAD to pump gas for me. Believe me - that will change."
The man chuckled, "Actually, he's my nephew, but he just begged to pump the gas. I have a twenty-three year old son, and he likes to fill up my car too - but then he wants to take off with it."
I replied, "My son is twenty-two. I know exactly what you mean." We both laughed, enjoying a moment of shared experience and memories. I paid for my coffee and before leaving said, "Have a good day, sir."
To which he replied, "You too, ma'am."
Just as I approached the door to leave, two white men stood before me and questioned, "Why you talking to a nigger?" Here I was, in my own hometown, starting my day, confronting racism head on.
I was stunned. I felt immediate red hot anger, shaking with rage. Concern for the black man also flowed through my thoughts. I felt hate and disgust and hastily replied, "I don't see any niggers in here."
One of the men spat back, "You're a nigger too then." Another brash comment burst out of my mouth and I stormed out the door.
As I drove away, I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to call 911, or the NAACP or anyone that could do anything about this. I wanted to tell the world that should never happen anywhere - especially not in Holland.
In days after the incident, I was instructed by a family member to contact the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. Their Advocacy Team reviewed the case and requested that we use the event as an awareness story. These things do happen. In many ways, in many places. In our community.
I also reflected on my response to the men; it surely wasn't the best way to handle the situation. So in an effort to become involved and learn more skills to confirm racism, I'll be participating in an Institute for Healing Racism and volunteering with the Diversity Alliance whenever I can.
I hope that as those who have experienced racism read this short story, they know they are not alone.
And for those who have not, know that it does happen and you can help.
learn more about how to get involved...