I live at a school in Dallas in an older part of town. Upon moving here, I was told that it was a rough area that was unsafe to walk around in, especially at night. I don’t find it to live up to the hype that it received. This does not mean that I have not experienced any form of threat in my meanderings. But, as a general rule, it is not as rough as people claimed it was. How did I realize this? Experience. I walk. I enjoy walking. Walking 10 miles in an afternoon or evening, for me, has become an afternoon stroll. I can think. I can clear my head. I get exercise.
Recently in my walks, I came to a predominantly Black part of the neighborhood. There was a community center that I had seen above the trees that I wanted to check out. I walked to it. As I did, I passed a Black lady. I continued walking to the center. It was closed by this time, so I just looked in the window, read a flyer they had posted, and figured I would come back later. Across the street is a housing project. A number of men were on the porches of the little houses chatting with each other. I had walked past them on my way over. As I left the parking lot of the community center, I noticed they were all staring at me. I head back past the lady I saw on my way over and as I am approaching her, I see her looking at my shirt.
I have participated in the Highland Games a number of times.The Highland Games are a traditional Scottish sporting event. The shirt I was wearing that day was the same one I am wearing in this picture to the right. I got it at this competition. Emblazoned across the front of the shirt is the Scottish flag.
She looked at my shirt as I was walking towards her. Then she looked up at my face (she was rather short compared to my six-foot self). She motioned with a not entirely straight finger towards my shirt and said, “You voted for Trump didn’t you?” I exclaimed something to the effect of, “Uh! Ew! No!” It was a rather visceral reaction. She laughed at the way I said it. Her hand was still pointing towards my shirt. I looked down, having forgotten what shirt I was wearing, to see what she was pointing at–the Scottish saltire.
I put two and two together and realized why she asked what she asked. Other than smiling and nodding as I do with just about everyone I pass on my walks, I had had no interaction with her to this point let alone spoken anything until I responded to her question about Trump. It was the flag. She thought it was another famous saltire-based flag. You can see the similar shapes of the two below. I replied, “Oh! No. Scottish flag. Scottish.” We had a good laugh, and I continued on my way.
There was something I realized in that moment with that lady that I have had trouble articulating for a long time. Ignorance can be read as hate, and ignorance can misread hate. Not knowing the Scottish flag, but seeing the similar shape, she misinterpreted the meaning of my shirt and jumped to a conclusion about me and my beliefs that simply aren’t true. Being a student of history and a lover of books I have learned the ins and outs of medieval heraldry. But, this is not a standard course of study in school. I showed the shirt to a White friend of mine and asked what she thought. She commented, “Is that the Confederate flag? It seems kind of weird. I don’t know what it is.”
I am a history nerd. I read history. I study history. I seek it out. Once, I was a history major in college. It is a passion of mine. I can’t expect that a woman I just happen to come across would have the background I have. I can’t assume that she would think what I think, love what I love, and do what I do. So why would I get mad at her when she assumes the wrong thing?
The great American writer Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Travel lets you see behind the curtain. It takes you to place you have never been, shows you things you have never seen, and makes you reconsider things you know. Travel can be as far as the other side of the planet or as near as that next street over where you have never walked. It could be talking to someone outside your affinity group, race, or economic strata. When you travel, you learn. When you learn, the realm of your ignorance decreases.
We are all learning and growing and changing. We get things wrong all the time with people we meet. Yet, some how we think we are the only one’s entitled to grace when we misstep. When meeting new people you will probably be offended by something they do. Ask yourself, “Was it malicious?” If so, move on. If not, did you misread their ignorance as hate? Did they misread yours? What in this situation do you not understand? What could it be that they don’t understand? Are you seeking perfection in your first encounter with someone different from you? Is that a reasonable expectation?
The people who told me that my neighborhood was unsafe never go off-campus and walk in it. They heard from a friend who heard from someone else that it was bad and never found out for themselves. They stay in their gated buildings or drive an hour away to the “safe” neighborhoods where they stay inside their houses. They never meet people. They never talk to people. They never misunderstand or are misunderstood. Experience can’t be gained in a book or in a tweet. Ignorance reigns and multiplies when people are too scared to walk out their front door and down the street.