I was walking from my office Friday, coming out of the building just behind a woman, and as I approached the street, I stopped the way I always do. There were cars coming and even though there’s a great trauma one center a block over–one I was heading to it in fact–I don’t want to become a patient! So, I waited to judge my chances.
I heard the woman say, “Thank you,” and I didn’t know she was talking to me exactly. I did see in my peripheral vision that she was at the curb. She pulled back.
As I walked across the street, I saw her edge into the traffic and raise her hand. I always look around me, always need to know who’s behind me, even if I’m in Streeterville because I was raised on the south side.
The woman was then looking for a taxi, and she had thought I was calling one for her. She had thanked me based upon the assumption that I was going to hail a cab. It hadn’t occurred to me to call a cab. It was the last thing on my mind. I was going to see my patients.
I walked through the alleyway smelling Do-Rite donuts and asking myself how many assumptions I had made about people that morning. It wasn’t many because the day was still young, but I wanted that lady’s assumption to become an education for me. I chuckled as I shook my head to convince myself of my perception of the moment. I debated how right I was and eventually decided that it didn’t matter if I was correct about her assumptions of me, as I reminded myself that it never mattered.
I didn’t want to pivot toward those older assumptions of white women, the ones who locked their doors when I approached their cars even though I was only walking down the street, or the ones I avoided by crossing the street because I wasn’t ready to face their thoughts of me through their physical reactions to my presence.
I didn’t want to find something wrong even if the woman coming from my office thought I was the valet since there were valets at the building, black guys, even if they didn’t wear NM chaplain jackets or carry books with ribbons protruding from them that couldn’t be understood as sacred materials. I wanted to study my soul and interrogate my experience and question what I was assuming.
I wanted that moment to be an education. I wanted that woman, who I hope found her taxi and her destination, to be my teacher for the morning. After all, I was in a residency to learn and to form my (pastoral) identity in my beautiful brown skin and this was as much a part of the lesson as the patients I’d visit.