Waffle House and the McKinney Police: A Runaway writes home

“I do know this. It’s the things we run from that hurt us the most.”
― Norma Johnston

 

I am beginning to crave Waffle House. It usually happens about 2 or 3 weeks in my time in London. I miss a lot of things about home, especially the cute red-head that shares my house. But when I got on that plane back in May, right after graduation, I knew one thing for certain: I wanted to get the hell out of Dallas. I wanted to get out of the United States. I was running away.

I love teaching in London. We have a great program with great faculty (note shameless plug). Our trips and our classes are awesome. The SMU-London program is enough in itself to create exciting anticipation about London. But programmatic greatness notwithstanding, I just needed London. Frankly, I needed anywhere where the world that I had been swimming in was NOT. Like a little kid, fed up with life, fed up with disappointment, I was running away.

In the last three weeks, I am more convinced than ever that I am running away and happily staying on the run. The British had just finished their elections, the French Open was just beginning, and the Queen was getting ready to open Parliament. I sat aimlessly staring out of the windows of the #74 as I made my way each morning toward campus. I was breathing again.

You see, I was tired. I am tired. I cannot do the angry life that is the American life right now. The screaming, the accusations, faux journalism, and false options. Gotcha politics and misguided policies. After Ferguson, Baltimore, Die Ins, SAE, Impotent Churches and their leaders, and too many Shonda Rhimes jumps of the Scandal Shark—I needed air. I needed some civility.

Look. The English have their faults. We have because of their accents created a mythical people who are polite, classy, and stoic. They have a queen, princes and princesses, and several castles. Politics and Journalism are blood sports in England—where do you think we learned it from? But and this is a huge but: there has not been one police shooting since I have been here. They are debating the CONSERVATIVE proposal to increase government sponsored childcare to 30hours a week. I sat in a regular downtown church service that held Africans, Indians, Americans, Germans, Swedes, West Indians, and Russians all lifting their voices as one Methodist Church in celebration of God’s grace. There were men and women, leading and singing; praying and preaching; worshiping and greeting. I watched the English senior pastor; consult with the African Organist; who took cues from the African woman associate, who sat next to the laywoman who would deliver the day’s sermon.

The one day I check on news back in America, I find my hometown at the heart of another racial controversy. Black teenagers, invited to a pool party with other kids of all colors in a predominately white suburban neighborhood, confronted, arrested while white teens were left standing an untouched. Instead of a Texas Ranger win, I was greeted with images of a McKinney cop with his knee in the center of teenage girl’s back as she cried for her mother. I watched in horror as white men, no doubt parents themselves, stood by and watched a police officer pull a gun on unarmed black teens in bathing suits just before he drug a young woman by her hair and ground her face into the dirt. Cursed out and handcuffed, these teenage swimmers were treated with more aggression than the bikers that shot up a Twin Peaks restaurant during lunch on a couple of weeks ago Sunday.

Perhaps the quote that reminded me why I packed my bags was the one by the brave young white man who videoed the entire event: “Everyone who was getting put on the ground was black, Mexican or Arabic…the cop didn’t even look at me, I was invisible.” See that what it means to be Black in America- visible, vulnerable, even in your bathing suit. That when it comes right down to it, whether you are a man and over 200lbs  or a girl weighing less than 100, you will always be viewed as a threat. Even when an invited guest, you are ultimately an unwelcomed stranger.

I feel like as a progressive and an African American, I must say this: I love my country. My father, grandfather’s, uncles, cousins, aunts have fought in every war and served in every branch of the service. I am patriotic. I proudly sing the National Anthem. But the truth of the matter is our relationship is just in a bad spot right now and well, I needed to take a break. I am trying to work some stuff out about our politics, our church, and our problems with race. So I am running away—this thing with England is just a rebound thing. It’s cute, classy, and fashionable— a passing but necessary fancy. You, my dear US, are the home of my Crimson Tide, my Waffle House, my Husband, and my beloved workplace. Our history is as complex as our relationships and well….you are a bit out of freaking control right now. Are you capable of wonderful heights of human beauty and creation, lauded values and precepts–of course you are! Which is why you are able to keep me coming back and believing in the best of you even when time and time again you let me see the worst of you. For the sake of our long-term relationship, it is best we walk away before one of us says something we don’t mean. Or more frighteningly, you do something that tells me what you REALLY mean.

So until I can gather the strength needed to be Black in America and all that entails, I am just going to sit here in Chelsea and eat my rocket and prawn sandwich. But at night, as a shiver under my blankie during the 50 degree nights I will continue to dream of a Buttermilk Waffle, with a side of patty sausage, and some covered and smothered hash browns served in a place where the menu also serves as the placemat.


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