A very personal experience:
Charleston, South Carolina, June 2021
After visiting the incredibly eye-opening and educational Old Slave Mart museum, I stepped out into Chalmers Street, waiting for friends to meet me. The June sun torched sidewalks and cobblestones, I was early, so I decided to wait in the shade and plopped down on one of the two small benches flanking the museum entrance.
After a few minutes another visitor leaving the museum asked if there was room for her to sit down too; apologising for being such a space hog I scooted over to make room.
Then one of her friends came out to join her, so my seat buddy and I made space in the middle for the newbie to sit down. Both she and her friend were Black, both in their Fifties or Sixties. The new arrival joked about the stability of the bench – basically a wooden plank with end supports – now bending quite a bit under the weight of three adults. I laughingly responded that, just like in real life, we all sat in the same boat.
A few minutes later, the lady in the middle turned to me and very politely inquired if she could ask a question.
I stopped spacing out observing people, turned to her and said “yes, of course”. My neighbour proceeded by explaining the question had nothing to do with me personally, and that she actually felt it was ok to ask me. I only had an inkling that what was coming was not a tourist question about dinner recommendations.
And so she asked: “Why do you hate us?”
If my writing doesn’t paint the moment properly I am sorry: what her question meant was “Why do you Whites hate us Blacks?” I was floored by her question and speechless, by her trust to pose it to a total stranger, and also by a quiet sadness in her voice.
Mentioning that I’m German, living in the US for about 30 years and considering it my second home country but couldn’t answer like a born American could, I responded spontaneously and truthfully: “I can’t explain it, and I do not understand it either.”
Pause. Her eyes got wet, mine too, and for the next ten minutes or so the two of us spoke quietly about discrimination, race, fears and hope. Two total strangers, without introduction or preparation, engaged in a too-short dialogue, dropping barriers, and I felt extremely honoured that she had seized the moment and chose me to ask what was on her mind.
My friends appeared. When my conversation partner’s group got ready to leave as I did, my new friend turned towards me and, waving goodbye, said "I want to marry you." Beam. to this day I regret not giving her my name and phone number or asking for hers. I so would have loved to continue our exchange. But I didn’t think on my feet.
It was a magic moment, priceless, with an unexpected insight into each other’s experiences, feelings and thoughts. This lady, with her courage to approach a stranger with her question, touched me in a way I will remember as long as I live.
©tckaiser. Photo by ThriftDiving.com
Tobias Kaiser works as an independent real estate broker and consultant in Florida since 1990. Always putting his clients' interest first, he specialises in modern Florida homes and architecture, as well as net leased investments.