Right before the pandemic began to shut down the world, my husband and I traveled to the UK and France. Before we left, we were warned that people in France can have a racist mentality and to be prepared. We genuinely had an incredible time in both countries, except for one experience.
We were traveling from Paris to Bordeaux to see some of our best friends living in France. Our trip was coming to an end soon and I wanted to find a café in a small town to have a cup of coffee. I plugged in “coffee shops near me” and off we went. As we pulled into this town, it was eerie how empty it was. We did not see one person and it frankly looked like an abandoned town. We drove past the café I found on google, saw people were sitting down and decided to try it out.
I was in full “white girl” adventure mode and was carefree of this seemingly odd situation. Lindell was uneasy from the beginning but went along with the persistence of my vision to find this café and have a cup of coffee.
Once we entered the café everyone got quiet. Everyone was white. Everyone was staring. Still in my carefree mindset I tried to talk to the waitress, she made it clear she spoke zero English. She then proceeded to say something to the customers in the café (I assumed asking if anyone spoke English) no one answered. I started looking at the menu (which was all in English). Still thinking they would serve us, I looked up and the owner was screaming at Lindell. He started making gestures with his hands and signaling us to leave. The waitress made it clear they were refusing service and essentially pushed us out.
As we were walking back to the car, I made a few comments of how rude they were in attempt to ease the tension. Lindell was silent. Again, my “white girl” mindset said, “it wasn’t that serious,” as if that was supposed to minimize the situation of being kicked out of a restaurant and being completely humiliated.
I have been with Lindell when he experienced racism in America. I’ve been in the back seat of the car when he got pulled over for doing nothing wrong and had a ticket thrown in his face. I’ve seen him be talked to poorly when asking the same question a white man asked right before and received a completely different response and tone. I’ve questioned why he doesn’t wear sweatpants when flying and his response is, “to avoid standing out more in an airport.” But this… this was different.
In my mind, they kicked us both out, but in reality… the hand gestures and screaming were directed at him.
I’ve always tried to be empathetic and learn as much as I can about the experience of a black person. Nothing bothers me more than hearing stories of racism, but in that moment, it hit me… no matter how much I educate myself, I’ll never truly understand what Lindell felt in that moment or any other person of color has felt. I can be the most “woke” person in the room and still not have the slightest idea what they experience.
In the processing moments after, I felt so much anger and my heart was broken. I felt guilt that I can live my life so oblivious of what other people encounter because of white privilege. I felt guilt that I was born into this bubble of protection because of my skin.
For my white friends and a reminder to myself… saying you’re not racist is not the same thing as fighting racism. Having a “black friend” does not make you anti-racist. Staying silent or “keeping peace” during racial injustices is choosing racism. Being infatuated with black culture is not the same thing as accepting black people.
I cannot watch another innocent black person lose their life and keep scrolling… not for my family, not for the sake of human justice. When it all seems so overwhelming and that change is impossible, I’m begging you… make the calls, sign the petitions, have the hard conversations, truly listen to what their experiences are, but please, just do something… innocent black lives are depending on it.