When does the hitting back end — or will it ever?

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“It all started when he hit me back.”

These are the words my friend heard on a school play yard. And if you’ve ever worked at a school, you can believe it.

Last week, I was walking through the beautiful grounds at the school where I work. As I passed a visitor there, the man scowled, turned his head and spat on the ground. I thought, “Ew! Spitting is such a nasty habit!” and “I hope none of the students saw that. That’s not what we want to teach.”

Then it hit me: “Hello! I’m having one of those old-fashioned experiences my elders dealt with!” (Those encounters have recently spiked, in case you haven’t heard.)

Spitting on the ground when someone walks past is supposed to show one’s superiority (or the other’s inferiority, as it were). However, my respect for this man plummeted through the landscaped ground straight toward the core of the Earth. I have zero respect for extreme racism.

This fellow was disrespecting “me” based only on the level of melanin in my skin. And I no longer respected him. It was kind of sad… but only for a moment.

An interesting thing happened next: I felt almost euphoric! It was weird.

I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s: Post Civil Rights Movement; integrated schools from first grade on. Very little “us” against “them,” no mystery about “them” or “those.” Perhaps our elders still waged their ongoing wars at home, but at my school, my ethnically diverse friends and I had a ball, through all 12 grades. (My Facebook account bears witness to this!)

I wasn’t raised to feel better than anyone else, but neither do I have even the most remote idea that I am somehow “less than” anyone. I have no insecurity about who I am.

I am a product of the ‘70s “Black Power/Black is Beautiful” movement(s). I grew up singing songs like Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” a reaction to what we had previously been told… hitting back after several centuries of being punched.

It never dawned on me that if I felt beautiful and powerful, people who don’t look like me couldn’t feel that way… like some ridiculous seesaw. My diverse set of friends didn’t seem to think so either.

It’s nearly impossible to walk in someone else’s shoes and my own haven’t been very heavy. I mean, sure, I’ve experienced plenty of prejudice. When I was a teenager at a carnival, I wanted to play a bean toss game. Although I was the only one waiting at the booth, the teen running the game looked this way and that, pretending not to see me, making it obvious I couldn’t play.

At a farmer’s market in Winters, a farmer did the same when I wanted to buy his veggies. I was incredibly grateful though, because he exhibited this bigoted behavior before I made the purchase. I wouldn’t have wanted to eat produce from a field sown with hatred. And I for sure wouldn’t have wanted to feed it to my children. (I mean this literally.) I almost told my kids but decided to protect them a little while longer; they were only 6 and 8.

The next booth was friendly and welcoming. I bought my produce there and happily gave that farmer my money. But this recent backwards act (spitting when I walk by) gave me a chance to walk, even just a few steps, in my parents’ and grandparents’ shoes. It felt like a badge of honor. I knew I was in good company — not just People of Color but of those who walked alongside during the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.

This man had given me a gift. (Even though I still think spitting’s a nasty habit.)

I also felt empathy: What pain he must be in; what hardships? How frustrating that the world has changed so much? Wanting everything to stay the same, when the only constant is change. Hitting “back” after “suffering” through a Black president (who is more culturally Hawaiian and biracial than anything else).

Others are hitting back after feeling discounted. Self-identifying peoples, previously seen (or unseen!) and not heard, like proverbial children. Unwilling to simply sit by… or unwilling to stand. Hitting back non-violently, and sadly, sometimes violently. Each trying to make America great, but for many “not again!”

“It all started when he hit me back.”

But where does it end?

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26 comments
  1. I truly enjoyed this.I met Vatrena King several years ago and knew right away she was a special person.Her career and her writings a sure sign of how special she is.I hope I will see more of her writings.

  2. I truly enjoyed this.I met Vatrena King several years ago and knew right away she was a special person.Her career and her writings a sure sign of how special she is.I hope I will see more of her writings.

  3. Speaking of disgusting habits.. I’m having trouble stomaching the actions of these Californians described by the author. Thank goodness for her for calling out this behavior.

  4. Speaking of disgusting habits.. I’m having trouble stomaching the actions of these Californians described by the author. Thank goodness for her for calling out this behavior.

  5. Great article, Vatrena! Miss you. So sorry those things happened to you. Obviously they will never know what a bright, talented and beautiful person you are. Their loss.

  6. Great article, Vatrena! Miss you. So sorry those things happened to you. Obviously they will never know what a bright, talented and beautiful person you are. Their loss.

  7. Knowing your beautiful soul – this hurts to read someone did this to you. In true form to the person you are – you were able to rise above and see the incident clearly, share intelligent insight and an empathetic view towards a human being. Thank you for sharing and thank you for this gift. I am looking forward to future columns and know you will be a voice I will always want to hear!

    1. You continue to amaze me. As one of your roommates back in the 80’s I just saw you as this beautiful young lady with the biggest smile and kindest heart and here you are moving mountains and inspiring others. Hugs to you and your family. I miss those days often some of my best memories come from there

  8. Knowing your beautiful soul – this hurts to read someone did this to you. In true form to the person you are – you were able to rise above and see the incident clearly, share intelligent insight and an empathetic view towards a human being. Thank you for sharing and thank you for this gift. I am looking forward to future columns and know you will be a voice I will always want to hear!

    1. You continue to amaze me. As one of your roommates back in the 80’s I just saw you as this beautiful young lady with the biggest smile and kindest heart and here you are moving mountains and inspiring others. Hugs to you and your family. I miss those days often some of my best memories come from there

  9. What a thought provoking article! It is sad that we are still trying to “overcome”. Perhaps this gentlemen, like so many others in his shoes, are shocked that we have, in many ways, surpassed what they thought we could. And, Cousin, I am proud to share the same grandparents as you.

  10. What a thought provoking article! It is sad that we are still trying to “overcome”. Perhaps this gentlemen, like so many others in his shoes, are shocked that we have, in many ways, surpassed what they thought we could. And, Cousin, I am proud to share the same grandparents as you.

  11. Good grief. You have made so many assumptions about people you have never seen before nor since. You have no real idea at all of what those people were thinking.

    This is one of thousands of victimogy 101 treatises blasted all over the media to sow racial discord.

    “Where does it end?” you ask. Stop conjuring imaginary insults about “disrespecting” and complaining about things you think happened decades ago is where it stops.

    Leave your indoctrinated perceptions and hypersensitivity behind and move on.

    1. You are right Kathy, the nerve of being hypersensitive when you are blatantly ignored. Disrespect is disrespect, no matter how you slice it. The only time it will end is when people realize that there are mean spirited folks still walking around.

    2. Hi Cathy!

      Thanks for your response. If you are willing to join the dialog on race relations in this country, I suggest you watch the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize”. This is always a good place to start, because it uses actual footage of historical events, leaving very little room for assumption about historical events (“i.e. “things I THINK happened decades ago”.)I don’t even have to rely on the first hand accounts of my elders (although I trust them) because it’s well documented (including the spitting to show disrespect 🙂 I have seen it myself – and you can too IF you are actually interested in having a real dialog.

      As far as my assumptions about the people I encountered: It appears that you missed words like, “blatant” and “obviously”. If you’ve never had anyone ‘blatantly” ignore you or make it ‘obvious” that they don’t want to deal with you, then that’s wonderful! I’m happy for you. But please don’t judge MY experience by your lack of experience. (That’s like me saying, “I don’t believe people are starving… after all, I have food!”)

      I am not a ‘victim’ and you don’t need to feel guilty. However, you do need to educate yourself and be willing to come to the conversation with an open mind and an open heart, letting go of your own assumptions. That’s where it ends!

      Blessings on your journey,
      Vatrena

      1. Vatrena –

        So eloquently stated! You dealt with this woman’s ignorant and combative assumptions gracefully and beautifully, and in the process, opened up the opportunity for a much-needed dialog… Proud to know ya!

  12. Good grief. You have made so many assumptions about people you have never seen before nor since. You have no real idea at all of what those people were thinking.

    This is one of thousands of victimogy 101 treatises blasted all over the media to sow racial discord.

    “Where does it end?” you ask. Stop conjuring imaginary insults about “disrespecting” and complaining about things you think happened decades ago is where it stops.

    Leave your indoctrinated perceptions and hypersensitivity behind and move on.

    1. You are right Kathy, the nerve of being hypersensitive when you are blatantly ignored. Disrespect is disrespect, no matter how you slice it. The only time it will end is when people realize that there are mean spirited folks still walking around.

    2. Hi Cathy!

      Thanks for your response. If you are willing to join the dialog on race relations in this country, I suggest you watch the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize”. This is always a good place to start, because it uses actual footage of historical events, leaving very little room for assumption about historical events (“i.e. “things I THINK happened decades ago”.)I don’t even have to rely on the first hand accounts of my elders (although I trust them) because it’s well documented (including the spitting to show disrespect 🙂 I have seen it myself – and you can too IF you are actually interested in having a real dialog.

      As far as my assumptions about the people I encountered: It appears that you missed words like, “blatant” and “obviously”. If you’ve never had anyone ‘blatantly” ignore you or make it ‘obvious” that they don’t want to deal with you, then that’s wonderful! I’m happy for you. But please don’t judge MY experience by your lack of experience. (That’s like me saying, “I don’t believe people are starving… after all, I have food!”)

      I am not a ‘victim’ and you don’t need to feel guilty. However, you do need to educate yourself and be willing to come to the conversation with an open mind and an open heart, letting go of your own assumptions. That’s where it ends!

      Blessings on your journey,
      Vatrena

      1. Vatrena –

        So eloquently stated! You dealt with this woman’s ignorant and combative assumptions gracefully and beautifully, and in the process, opened up the opportunity for a much-needed dialog… Proud to know ya!

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