I was almost involved in a race riot the other night. Well, maybe I overstate it a bit, but not by much.
I was in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth about three weeks ago on a Saturday night. I had been hanging out down there for the evening and midnight had just passed (I acknowledge your question of "What in the heck were you up to down there?" but will ignore it). Deciding that it was time to head home, I walked towards the parking garage which is next to the building that houses a movie theater and the Barnes and Nobles. I always park there: It's free, well lighted, and heavily patrolled by Bass Security. There were a few folks walking in the same general direction.
Some of those folks were drunk. That's not an unusual sight in downtown Fort Worth late at night. The area is full of bars, restaurants and dance clubs. People go out. People drink. People head home. Some with designated drivers. Some who incur the wrath of MADD.
But my attention was drawn to two couples walking in front of me that were "having a good time". They were young, Asian, hip, and, also, licquored up. [Hereinafter the group, for simplicity's sake, will be referred to collectively as "the Asians"]. One of the girls was strikingly beautiful. Almost model quality beautiful. And she seemed to be the loudest of the foursome. She wasn't saying anything in particular. In fact, most of it was indiscernible chit chat followed by shrieking laughter on her part.
It was about to get tense.
The Asian couples, myself and about ten other people were now in the lobby area of the parking garage. For those of you that haven't seen it, there's a very small enclosed waiting area where people have the joy of standing around waiting for the elevators to arrive. I've been in that lobby area many, many times over the years. It can be a pretty funny site sometimes as a cross section of America waits for the elevators. Someone normally says at least something that will cause a second or two of entertainment (at least for me). You know, "I can't believe he hit on that girl," "That bar is so pretentious," "Honey, what did I do? What did I do?" Stuff like that. It's an eavesdroppers paradise.
Not this time.
people really saying anything on this occasion were the Asian couples
pretty one still being the loudest and bordering on being obnoxious.
becoming less and less attractive to me by the minute).
Then a nuclear bomb was dropped in the middle of the lobby: The Asian girl, rather loudly and with a thick Asian accent, said, "He should have said f$#! the n*&^%" followed by uncontrollable laughter. For those of you that just spewed out your coffee, I'm right there with you. It was one of those moments in your life that you really cannot believe is happening. I had not been able to make out any of the conversation up until that point so I didn't know who she was talking about, and, at that moment, the details seemed irrelevant in light of the Verbal Flame Thrower that had gone off in the lobby.
And I want to stress again that the sentence was uttered in a very, very loud voice. The words were echoing off the walls of a lobby like the drunk uncle at Thanksgiving who continues to talk even though grace is currently being said by the head of the household.
But let me digress for a moment. Kids curse today. Badly. Hearing an "F bomb" being dropped in public is not exactly a shocking experience anymore. I'm not saying you'll hear it in the Walmart check out line (although you might), but you "darn" sure will hear it if you are running around in the evening time in the metroplex. That being said, the racial epithet that the young Asian dropped is not something you hear everyday. But to complicate this impromptu experiment in race relations, the offending word she uttered didn't end in "er" but with "a". Now this gets into an area that is confusing to a white man like me. Most hip hop songs today include that term (here's a sample if you dare). But (1) the radio has that awkward way of having the lyric "disappear" with silence while the music plays on, and (2) it is always an African American that is singing those lyrics. I'm in no position, unlike Bill Cosby, to even have an opinion of blacks using that term. But this was no black. This was an Asian. Color me confused.
Back to the lobby.
I was in one of those "did I just hear what I think I heard?" moments when the silence of lobby was interrupted once more. "He should have said f$#! the n*&^%" . Yep. That's right. She said it again. And, again, she broke out into hysterical laughter. I had been looking at the floor but I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to look at the girl to confirm that I was simply not having some Boyz in the Hood/New Jack City type of dream. I slowly turned my head and there the four of them were. None of the other three of that foursome had a "holy, crap, don't say that" look on their faces. Just the opposite. They were smiling as they didn't have the care in the world.
Now the young Asian, apparently oblivious to the fact that you do not have to repeat something over and over to get your point across, said it AGAIN!!! (Mind you, all of the three utterances occurred within 10 seconds.). But then my brain finally had a thought which it should have had about nine seconds earlier. "I'm offended by that," my brain said. "But if I were an African American, I would be more than offended, I'd be inclined to kick someone's a$$." Then my brain said, "Holy crap! I wonder if there is anyone in the lobby that is, in fact, an African American?"
I slowly scanned the room and, low and behold, there was one black couple standing in front of the center elevators with their backs to the Asians. "Take us to DEFCON 1," my brain said. I'd place the couple in their early thirties and they looked more like they had been to the movies than to to a dance club or a bar. (I have no idea how I can jump to that conclusion - just stay with me here). I was waiting for a reaction, and I got one quickly. The black lady did the slowest, most methodical, most "What the f@#% did I just hear?", head turn that you have ever seen. And she was not pleased. No, that's an understatement. She was outraged. (Her male counterpart seemed intent on just getting out of there).
So there I was. A middle age white guy who suddenly had flashbacks of the Los Angeles riots. Wasn't that primarily between Blacks and Asians, I thought? "Oh my gosh, I might become the Texas version of wrong-place/wrong-time/brick-to-the-head Reginald Denny any moment!" my brain said. I was tense. Every white guy or gal in that lobby was tense.
And then, as majestic as the movement of the Hand of God, the elevator bell rang signaling its arrival. Saved by the bell. Literally. The black guy quickly entered the elevator while the black lady took her time and never broke her stare of the young Asian girl. Amazingly, the young Asian and her friends continued to be oblivious to the world. Of course, the next big question was whether the Asians were going to get on the same elevator as the black couple. There was a sadistic side of me that was hoping the answer was "yes" and then I'd have to make the difficult decision of whether to get into the elevator to watch the tension and/or carnage. It became a moot point. The Asian group didn't move (I have no idea why not) and another elevator opened up at the same time.
I got in the "other elevator" with about four other whites. The Asian group, the last time I saw them, were still standing in the lobby. The whole incident had lasted only seconds but it was incredibly intense. I wanted to apologize to the black couple because, suddenly, I had a real inkling of what racism is like. And I was still curious about the Asian girl. I don't think she had any idea of the impact of her word. She might have just picked it up from a rap song or a movie and didn't know the history behind the term. Or, and I'll place my money on this option, she might have just been stupid.
As my elevator made its way to the top, the five of us stood in silence. Finally, one of the girls said "That was sooooooo disrespectful!" No one else in the elevator said a word but I turned my head to nod at her.
And then we all disappeared into the night. The moment has stayed with me since then, and I'm just a white guy who witnessed it. I bet it has remained with the black couple as well. And will forever.