I’d like to share a story that fits into the larger narrative of some of the work I’ve been doing with law enforcement around profiling and responding to people of color. It helps provide context for some thoughts I plan to share in my next blog post. I hope you find them helpful — or at least challenging.

Earlier this year, I was at home working in my office when I heard a knock at the front door. 

Annoyed, because I wasn’t expecting anything and had a lot going on, I opened the door, shall I say, confidently. (Translation: fast and aggressive with an expression that screams, “What!?!” even though the words never left my mouth.) 

And standing there was a Black man, turned perpendicular to me in the doorway. He handed me a beautiful bouquet of flowers, with an infinitesimal delay between his outstretched hands and his words: “I have a delivery for you.”

As soon as I saw it, I knew what it was. 

It was my father’s annual tradition: roses for my daughter on her birthday.

I smiled kindly and said thank you, and he moved on. 

A little insight into me: I can be a dick. When someone unknown knocks on my door, and I’m not expecting a delivery, I anticipate the worst: religious zealots trying to save my soul, some canvasser trying to convince me that their candidate deserves my vote, someone always seeming a little to old for the cause of selling magazine subscriptions to earn their way into college… whatever. 

My initial expression is usually anything but friendly. And when I close the door, I don’t think twice about the interaction. 

Unless the person on the other side of that door is Black. 

The day of the delivery, I didn’t answer the door “confidently” because the man on the other side was Black. Our door doesn’t have a window, and I didn’t have a clue who was out there. It could have been Taylor Swift or the Pope, and they would have gotten the same unkind greeting.

But the man on the other side of my door didn’t know if my unkindness toward him was because he’s Black or because I’m just a dick. How could he know?

He was in a very white, middle-class neighborhood. And maybe he was understandably nervous about knocking on a door he couldn’t see through. Maybe that’s why he stood sideways for a quick and easy “getaway” in case I was actually a racist dick instead of just the ordinary, run-of-the-mill kind. 

And everything happened so fast. The entire exchange lasted maybe 15-20 seconds. 

The moment I knew he wasn’t there to sell me something, convince me of something, or to steal my time, I was more gentle and friendly and thanked him kindly. 

If he were white, or even female, I likely wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

But he was Black. And I thought about it a LOT. 

I didn’t harm him. I didn’t call him names. I didn’t treat him any differently than I would have treated anyone else.

But I found myself wondering what kind of experience I gave him.

In the end, he likely didn’t think twice about me. I probably never registered on his radar once he walked away — at least, I hope that’s the case.

But I won’t soon forget about him or stop thinking about the experience he had for a moment at my door. 

There’s no way for him to know my intentions, to have a clue what I thought — or whether I thought at all — about the color of his skin. It’s so easy to say, “I’m not racist, and I didn’t do anything racist,” and that would be “true” from my perspective. But my aggressive opening of the door didn’t say that.

Anais Nin said, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” 

He sees the world as a Black man, with Black history and Black experiences. I know none of that first hand. Did the experience I give him confirm a bias or counter one? I fear it confirmed one, a negative one, if only for a moment. 

We give people experiences. All. The. Time. And then we have a tendency to blame them when they don’t miraculously understand our intentions or have compassion for our bad day. We call them the hypersensitive ones. 

They can’t know us any more than we know them, these strangers that cross our path for a moment. But we have to remember and honor that they don’t see the world as we do, they see it as they do. 

How did he see me, that man at my door? How did he experience my world in that moment? I’m sad to say, not likely in the best light.

It’s not the lesson I wanted to learn — not that way, anyway. But because of it, I now muster up just a bit more patience, gentleness, and compassion when meeting a stranger. More often now, I will ask myself what kind of experience am I about to give this person.

And I think that’s a start. 


Photo by Cate Brodersen on Unsplash