Being a black woman in Minnesota is a strange and peculiar thing. At times I don’t feel qualified to share my experiences: I’m biracial, I have a white mother and husband, I’m educated, and I don’t live in poverty. As a result, I’ve been given countless opportunities because of these facts that others are simply not. I am often the first non-white person in spaces. In jobs, in moms groups, and while I am grateful, I wonder if the choice has to do with a feeling that I am somehow less threatening.
About a year ago we moved into our house in Stillwater. We love our community, and most of our neighbors are so welcoming. The majority of my fears about moving here subsided almost immediately, and I’m glad we’ve only had one bad experience, but it still haunts me, and honestly I am still mad as hell about it.
We had just moved in, and my husband Seth was already at work, and my young daughter Priscilla was sleeping upstairs. Like I always do, I had put our dog Astro on his leash outside while I finished up the breakfast dishes. I came out with a pile of garbage in my hands to throw out, right at the same moment a woman walking with her big dog came past my house. Our dogs barked at each other, as they have the habit of doing, and I heard her yell something. I could tell she was upset, her face twisted and angry. I said, “Oh, he’s big but he’s just saying ‘hi.’” I know our dog sometimes intimidates people, but I wanted to assure her he was okay.
Instead, she continued to yell, and I walked over to the edge of my yard to hear her better. “Your dog is mean, and not in a good way!” she said breathlessly. “Is this even your dog? Do you even live here?”
There it was. “Do you even live here?”
I stood there, braless in my pajamas still, sandals with the sun beating down on me in my own yard. “Excuse me?” She looked at me again, “Why did you ask me if I live here? Do I not look like I live here?” The for-sale sign had long been gone, only one car was in our driveway. I knew immediately what she was assuming, and she figured it out quickly, and then tried to back track. Her rude tone was dropped suddenly once she realized I was the owner, not a worker. I walked away from her, so angry it took me minutes to calm down before I could call Seth at work. I’m sure I was shrill, he asked me if I wanted him to come home.
A few hours later she came back. I had Priscilla with me. “I guess we didn’t get off to a good start” were her words, no apologies, and she thrust her business card into my hand. She tried to introduce herself. I could hardly hear what she was attempting to say.
“I don’t care that you’re upset about our dog. He’s big, and he has a big bark, you can always come talk to us about him. I’m offended that you think I don’t live here.” I was shaking, nervous, but I have a bit more confidence than I did in my twenties before I had the strength to confront situations like this head on. After all, I was standing in my yard.
Then it came, like clockwork, the tears. She stood in front of me crying while I held my baby. “Why are you crying?” I asked her. She fumbled over her words, unable to make much sense, and started to back up from me. It was a scene I wished Jordan Peele could watch personally, then pour me a strong drink afterward. At one point she mentioned diversity training, like the moment in Get Out when the father states he’d vote for Obama for a third time. Still, spinning herself as the victim despite her ridiculous behavior. “You can choose to see this as a learning experience or you can choose to make yourself the victim,” I said before I walked inside. How many times had I longed to say those words in previous, similar experiences, but had lacked the confidence and, honestly, the safety to do so? Nothing was on the line this time.
To this day she continues to take her daily walks past our house. If we’re outside, she looks down in shame. She’s never apologized, reached out, or attempted to make amends. She has never introduced herself to my husband. When I heard about the recent incident in Central Park it made me think of her. Two wings of the same butterfly, my neighbor and Amy Cooper.