The U.S. Center for Disease Control social distancing guidelines advise all of us to stay at least 6 feet apart from one another. Media and store signs give us the same advice. No one wants to catch Covid or the flu, so most people try to comply. In subways, buses, stores and other public spaces, people routinely move as far away as they can from one another, all regardless of color.
It was thus sad and surprising to read the letter in the Blank Slate newspapers last week accusing a white woman of racism, when the white woman may have simply been trying to do normal social distancing at the Barnes & Noble café. According to the letter, the white woman turned and moved her table away after an African-American woman and her two children sat down at the next table. The letter says that the African-American woman responded by screaming at the white woman and telling her children that this is what she has experienced throughout her life.
There are often many possible explanations for a behavior. Perhaps the white woman was a racist. But perhaps she was simply trying to follow social-distancing guidelines. Perhaps she had cancer or was otherwise immuno-compromised and at especial risk if she catches Covid or the flu. Perhaps the white woman wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want the African-American mother and children to catch anything from her. Or perhaps she wanted quiet and didn’t want to sit near any children. Maybe the white woman has an African-American husband? Who knows?
Real racism and false accusations of racism are both extremely hurtful. Both can endanger people’s physical safety and emotional well-being. False accusations also make it more difficult to combat real racism.
In the coming year, let’s give one another the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming the worst. We need less racial divisiveness and fewer accusations against people who may be perfectly innocent of racial animus. Let’s show more understanding and kindness toward one another.
Liz Berney, Esq.
(This letter is written in the author’s personal capacity, and is not written on behalf of any organization that the author is affiliated with.)