“That’s Illegal! You’re Illegal!”

True Sentence No. 21: To the woman who screamed at me “That’s illegal! You’re illegal!” because you thought I was deliberately not-stopping for you and your young son at a crosswalk (we misunderstood each other’s intentions; I thought you were deliberately waiting because I teach my kids we wait for the cars to pass at crosswalks): I’m not illegal and you are unneighborly.

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That’s the summary. I wrote out a longer version of the events that unfolded. But then felt I should word it more succinctly. But I can’t bring myself to delete the words below. So feel free to read those stream-of-consciousness ramblings too.

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Monday morning, I went out to get coffee before staring my workday at home (working remotely).

I don’t usually do this. Caribou runs are a luxury – of time. When all the stars align and I’m up extra early – with my hair combed and my zits concealed – I go grab a coffee.

It’s a straight shoot down a major, busy boulevard in a residential neighborhood to get there. The kind of residential neighborhood with an expensive, newly minted nature center, two country clubs, and lots of Black Lives Matter signs. (Just no Black people.)

It’s a neighborhood where residents pushed (successfully) to the speed limit lowered to 25mph on streets that would usually be 40 mph zones.

As I drove down one major thoroughfare, going about 28mph (I admit I was 3 mph over the limit), I saw a mom on the side of the road with her son. I’ll call her Bicycle Mom.

Bicycle Mom was in her 30’s, sporting a short blond ponytail. Her son was about 4 or 5. They were both on bikes and wearing bright, neon colored helmets.

I believe Bicycle Mom had a canvas tote bag with her. I forget exactly what it read, but it was something to the effect of “Shop Local.”

Bicycle Mom and her son were waiting to cross the busy boulevard. There were freestanding, neon yellow pedestrian crossing signs on other side of the road. And white pedestrian crosswalk lines painted across the asphalt.

As I neared them, they stood on the other side of the road. Bicycle Mom was in a hyper-vigilant stance. Stiff back, tense shoulders, she was darting a 360-gaze. They moved not an inch closer to the crosswalk.

Is she waiting for another kid to catch up?

Is she telling her son that they aren’t going to cross until the cars go by? (That’s what I tell my kids. We wait out the cars.)

Maybe Bicycle Mom is doing both?

It just seemed like she was waiting – for some reason – so I drove on.

“That’s illegal!” Bicycle Mom shrieked, screaming at the top of her lungs.

I could hear Bicycle Mom’s shrill, indignant accusation from inside of my car at least 100 feet away.

“You’re illegal!” she howled, even louder.

I froze.

I pulled over, to collect myself.

I thought about driving after her to apologize. Translation: I thought of following after her to explain my side of the narrative. That I was a neighborhood mom aware of her and her child. I thought they were waiting. Oh, and here’s my ID.

I wanted Bicycle Mom to feel ashamed, and prostate herself in apologies to me.

In front of her child.

But I didn’t. I sat there for a few seconds. And then drove on to get my coffee, Bicycle Mom’s racism ringing in my ears.

It wasn’t bald-faced “Go back to where you come from!” racism.

It was the nuanced, double-entendre sort of racism that White women (and men) can innocently evoke.

It’s the nuanced, Amy Cooper sort of racism. “I’m going to tell them a Black man is threatening me”

It’s the nuanced racism guised in patriotic concern at the DMV window. “Your birth certificate just says Korea. It doesn’t say you weren’t not born in North Korea. So even though you have a US passport and proof of US citizenship and a social security card, and I’m supposed to do it, I don’t think I can process this request for a real ID.”

For POC, this double-entendre racism is everywhere. It’s often some carefully worded version of “You don’t belong here” – using carefully chosen words that you can justify in feigned innocence. “I just stated a fact: that he’s Black. How is that racist?”

A part of me understand Bicycle Mom’s screaming “Illegal” at me.

She’s a mom protecting her children . Bicycle Mom’s concerned with drivers brazenly blowing through pedestrian crosswalks with no concern for her kids. She’s outraged.

Fear and anger have a way of making the racism come oozing out. In the right circumstances, any neighborhood Bicycle Mom could be an Amy Cooper.

I’ve had similar Amy Cooper moments in my car, when I’ve been cut off by bad drivers before. Or impeded by slow and inattentive ones. I’ll scrutinize the driver’s face. Then, racially annoyed, I’ll mutter “It figures.”

It’s horrible. And not defensible.

Maybe it’s because behind the wheel, or on the edge of crosswalks, or in secluded parks, we are in fight or flight mode.

If you thought a reckless driver, who nearly mowed down your kids on their bicycle, wasn’t even supposed to be there, that would add to to your indignation.

I don’t know that this was her narrative. But it must have been some similar flavor; why else would she have screamed, “You’re illegal!”

It happened in a flash.

No one said or did anything. It was just Bicycle Mom, her son, and other cars driving by.

But if it had happened in a store or parking lot or a church, I don’t think anyone would have said anything to her. By and large, most of us are not morally courageous. I’m not. I can stand against malfeasance – until it puts my life at risk or places me in personal discomfort.

There’s a reason why I’ve never seen someone intervene, mid-racism, to lend support or assistance. Even in the most benign situations. (“Honey, no offense but you’re the reason people don’t like immigrants. Queue crickets chirping and a half dozen White hipsters staring intently at their fingernails.)

But anyway, Bicycle Mom, here’s my true sentence no. 21:

I’m not illegal, and Bicycle Mom, you’re unneighborly.