character from color.

I noticed how edges of street lights stroked the highway barriers. Then, the barriers, in total unison, gazed at the wide open sky of numerous stars. I began to search for the moon when he almost hit me.

Turning away clockwise and returning to my face with his middle finger resoundingly pressed in towards my eyes, he was only centimeters away from a full out punch.

Explicatives with every letter in the alphabet were spat in my face. Saliva and all. It tasted like old basil roasted in salt

I ran.

I circled the parking lot, ignoring the pounding of my heavy bag against my bare legs. I saw my car at a distance but sure wasn’t about to walk towards it; what if he had been following me?

I hid behind a black car, praying for any kind of freedom, when I saw him enter back through the doors of the mall we had met for our first date. The start of the date had only been 40 minutes prior. It felt like years had passed.

I fandangled my keys from my African handiwork bag, opened the door as hard as I could, and locked it just as quickly.

Like fizzing pop, I had been so shaken I sat like a fool, paralyzed.

Needing a soothing voice, I called Rachel. As I heard her say, “I am so sorry,” again and again, I just drove. Weaving around, avoiding entry into the highway, I wanted to be sure I had completely lost his trail. Paranoia personified.

Over an hour later, I walked through my home garage, passed our green Subaru, and waited for the slamming of the heavy duty household entryway. I called for Mom.

“Well, that was interesting.”

I told her the story. She was shell-shocked; but I calmed her, don’t worry, I’m okay.

But I wasn’t. The harassment continued for next hour via text message. The worse of any kind of verbal arsenal, texts can breed anger and fear. They allow people to hide behind screens and so people will say anything.

The insulting comments about my physical appearance, about some of the things I had said, and about my faith were far more than insulting. They were degrading.

I was infuriated; my mother was much like a pretty ticked off gate-keeper. Absolutely furious.

Of all the insults, vicious words, and accusations, the worst – or the one I took most offense to?

“Racist…You white a** racist c*** bi***.”

This would evolve into allegations of me actually being the “white Satan devil woman” into him wishing I had died. Yes, death threats.


Here’s the thing. This incident of complete and total harassment had nothing to do with his skin color. Much like ignorance of other guys I have dated had nothing to do with their skin color, either.

It was a matter of character, heart, and motivation – none of which reflect in the pigmentation of who we are. We must learn to separate character from color.

We risk a lot by staking claim to behaviors or experiences by the color of a person.

Unlike the incident above, there was a time in my life where being white exerted intense, overt, and at times embarrassing white privilege. I would be placed at the front of church congregations, get the best meat at parties, and was the first choice for speeches – always. That was in Rwanda. Here, it’s not so obvious. Sometimes, I don’t think it exists. But it’s funny what you don’t think exists when you aren’t around it.

Just the other day, I found myself at the corner of Colfax & Race in Denver. The same Rachel who took my call in the midst of trauma was on the phone again. This time, she asked, “Where are you?”

So I told her; I’m off Colfax. Here’s the thing about Colfax. These days, if you stick to West Side, you’ll feel pretty damn comfortable. Gentrification has brought venues like Voodoo Doughnuts and boasts concert halls like the Bluebird or great Denver burger places, like City Grille. Head over to East Side, then you get into more dicey of neighborhoods. What worries me though, is that we label something as “gentrified” or “cleaned up” when race is diminished.

What if we looked at each other in the most balanced way possible; seeing each other for the race we are (after all, we have eyes, hello) but were in the most genuine way possible, able to eliminate the predispositions we place on our own understandings? And as you can guess, it must, and needs to go both ways.

As I have watched footage from Ferguson…from Baltimore…from all over, really…I worry that the words that Dr. King talked about are losing footing in our world because of our culture of over-disconnection.

We are so connected that we are unconnected.

So, instead of seeking a greater kind of love, agape, we Instagram, tweet, or write a status about how unbelievable race relations have become.  We mass publicize the riots in Baltimore, for example, without reading a reliable news story first. More than that, we fail to read a case study of Baltimore’s history or of recent court cases, legal findings, or background information that can help us actually have the kind of awareness we need to have in order to perceive situations accurately. Awareness is essentially, unequivocally important. Yet, I hope for something more. I hope that we can listen. Listen to people who have been unfairly treated because of their skin color – white, black, brown, red, yellow.

In a hospital waiting room once, I saw a black baby and asked my mother,

“Mommy! Is that a chocolate baby?”

It’s a legendary Heather-baby story; not so much because of the chuckle it emits, but because of how serious of an issue I would come to find race to be. Some of the most important people in my life have been of other races. This is a part of who they are. Just like being white is a part of what makes me, me. And yet, we are called also to recognize these differences, and celebrate them too. When I write about the church being a safe place, this is what I am talking about. We have to be able to reach a point of celebrating our differences, otherwise we run the risk of living forever segmented simply because we don’t understand. Maybe you don’t; maybe you never will. But you can and you should listen.

It’s probably not exactly how you think it might be.

Our country is hurting and no one can deny it. People are pointing fingers, and in many cases, it might be fair to do so. What worries me, however, is that with more finger-pointing, we lose a chance to truly dissect the issue we have at hand. Because like it or not, we have one. America is at war with itself; I can only hope and pray that it finds a way for us to look our own racist identities, experiences, and unconscious ideologies. It’s a scary, but necessary thing.

God, please protect America. Protect it’s people; protect it’s peace; protect it’s possibility. No longer can we afford to be a country that oppresses, refutes, patronizes, or sidelines it’s people. We must demand fairness. May it be in peace and not by the destruction of frustration. May we find a better way.

…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. – Martin Luther King Jr.


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Heather Newell Oglesby

Hi! I'm Heather. I am a writer and counselor in-training. I share stories so we can keep the magic of being human alive. I spend a great deal of time going on long walks with my wife, rollerblading, learning, and traveling to find new adventures. By day, I work as an Education and Employment Specialist for Jefferson Center for Mental Health, working with adolescents who have experienced their first episode of psychosis. A Colorado native, I love dark-roasted coffee, sunshine, and succulents. Enthusiasm, passion, and possibility: that's me at my best.

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