I’ve said for years that when Black people start thinking their skin color doesn’t matter, white America will show you quickly how black you really are. It happens to everyone from Oprah down to the regular everyday Brother Man, Nat Washington, working down at the car wash. I don’t roll that way because I’ve had so many wakeup calls my alarm is permanently stuck on five minutes to reality. I’ve just lowered my expectations so much when it comes to white folks showing the Brother Man any genuine love and respect, it’s at almost undetectable levels with me. I used to give all whites the benefit of the doubt and believed they weren’t racist until they stepped out of the shadows and showed me their true color, but now; it’s the other way around for me. I’ve had so many negative encounters and interactions that I just paint them all with the same vanilla brush until they present to me a different flavor. There have been a few that have distinguished themselves with their unique taste, kinda like how I put hot sauce on my eggs to taste different.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a different kind of wake up call. I’ve seen it on TV and read about it online, but I had never seen it for real-for real in person. I finally got to meet my Karen, well my Keith. It might take a minute for me to get you to the face to face introduction I had, so y’all stay with a Brother while I take you down the street and around the corner before I get to the crux of my point. Although I would love to put the business on blast, I can’t say where this melanin missing repository of hate and disgust is employed because I’ve been sued before and have had to stand before that white man in a robe for sharing my honest opinions. So, I’ll just be vague and say he worked for a car rental business that is a thriving national enterprise doing business all across this Country. OK, ok, relax, I’m getting low on gas so I’m going to stop riding around and get to the point.
Several family members started getting repeated phone calls from this company’s vehicle recovery division saying that a family member had rented a vehicle and two weeks after it was due back, had yet to return it. They even made intimidating visits to my elderly in-law’s home pressing them on the whereabouts of the vehicle causing the two nonagenarians much angst and anxiety. I was able to secure this Keith’s (his real name is Matt, but it sounds just as repugnantly bigoted doesn’t it?) personal cell phone number, so I put on my non-threatening telephone voice and gave him a call. I introduced myself and explained to him the purpose of me calling him at the ungodly late hour of 7:00 pm. His immediate response was not a reciprocal extending of mutual cordiality. No, it was an immediate, “Who gave you my personal cell phone number?!” I tried to duck and move past this angry response attributing it to his possible low blood sugar or sleep deprivation and asked him how we could work together to resolve this issue. Instead, Matt, I mean Keith, continued to angrily demand that I tell him how I got his personal cell phone number.
As he was ranting, I said to myself, “dude its not like I obtained Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s private number. You’re a paid cog in the wheel of a thriving car rental enterprise. Relax.” After I saw I was getting nowhere I hung up on Keith. He called me back within three seconds and continued to demand how I got his personal cell number. He then yelled into the phone that if I called him again, he would have me arrested. Even though the absurdity of that statement is evident, why do white folks always defer to law enforcement as their first option when angered and flustered with Black folk? It would not be the only time this Keith defaulted to that option in this encounter. The story continues the next day when I got to meet my first Karen/Keith in person.
The following day, after I had respectfully asked the good people at this unnamed thriving enterprise’s Vehicle Recovery Division not to contact my elderly in-laws, they called again pressing them on the whereabouts of the vehicle. So, I spent part of my morning driving around this little slice of hell where I pay property taxes looking for this elusive vehicle. After only 30 minutes of doing what this unnamed thriving enterprise’s Vehicle Recovery Division couldn’t do in two weeks, I located the big white whale. Well, it was a big ‘ol white Dodge Ram truck, but I found it and it wasn’t hard to reel in. After a strongly worded admonishment directed at this family member, I took control of the vehicle and drove it down to this thriving car rental enterprise that I still refuse to identify. After walking in and dropping off the keys, I asked to speak personally with Matt, um Karen, um Keith. And they say WE all look alike? Big sigh.
A few minutes later, this little 140 pounds of nothing of a joke dressed in grown man’s clothing came out with an immediate funk-nasty attitude and demeanor towards me. I offered my cordial and non-threatening voice again, having perfected it surviving for 20 years in Corporate America, but it was not met with the same in response. “I said to Matt/Keith, “I’m the one who called you last night. I found the truck and didn’t want to leave until I spoke to you. I think we got off on the wrong foot last night on the phone and I wanted to clear the air.” Instead of taking the olive branch, he was like a parrot on meth. His immediate response was, “I still want to know how you got my personal cell phone number?” I could feel my temperature rising like in the cartoon where it comes up from your feet and blows out of the top of your head. I said to him, “I took time out of my day to find a $80K vehicle for you, which I didn’t have to do, and instead of saying thank you, you’re still more worried about how I got your number than getting the vehicle back? I did you a favor.” He put a lot of stank on his response and said, ‘You didn’t do me a favor.” Well, it was like a game of poker at this point. I saw his stank and challenged him by raising my stank level higher. Cordiality and professionalism were gone from me at that point and I told him, “I should’ve just drove the MF’er in the river instead of bringing it back here.”
Well, if this wasn’t ugly enough at this point, it got exponentially worse. He escalated the matter to a whole ‘nother level and threatened to “kick my ass.” I looked at him wondering how we got here so quickly without going through the normal steps of escalation. Now, my heart doesn’t pump grape flavored Kool-Aid, so I obliged his offer and told him to let’s do this. He was extremely brave and continued making physical threats while being securely restrained by other employees from the thriving car rental enterprise. I urged his handlers to please let him go as I reminded them that no one was holding on to me. This was when his inner Karen/Keith emerged.
When things got real and he fully realized he had bitten off a big ‘ol chunk of a non-passive, non-docile Black man who follows Malcolm more than Martin, he then orders me off the property or he would call the police and have me arrested. Again, he ripped the play from the white racist handbook and went to the last resort go-to move. But this Karen/Keith couldn’t let it be over. As I went back to my personal vehicle, which a friend had driven following behind me in the missing white whale, this Karen/Keith came behind my SUV and yelled something at me. So y’all, I went there. I called him the word White people fear being labeled like they’ve been exposed to Kryptonite-being called a racist. See, I just didn’t call him a racist alone. I added some introductory profane descriptive terms for those of his melanin-less content who prefer their beer warm, their headgear of fabric and their domicile on wheels. Upon hearing this, he bravely stormed angrily towards my vehicle again being held back by employees. So, I stole a play from the handbook so many corrupt police officers use when justifying murdering unarmed Blacks. I told him if he approached my vehicle, I would fear for my safety and protect myself. Evidently, intelligent reality and awareness kicked in and his handlers pulled him away from my vehicle.
I’m never discourteous nor disrespectful to anyone and I’m a generally calm and peaceful dude. My personality and demeanor is not built any other way. But, I don’t subscribe to that ‘love your enemies’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ nonsense either. When you attempt to demonstrate a level of superiority and come at me sideways, I don’t care how I respond to you. When I returned home, I took to Social Media and posted both his personal cell phone and the Store’s cell phone number online and asked my 3000 friends and supporters to call him, and boy did they! Before he turned his phone off, in typical Karen/Keith revisionist practice, he told one caller that I misunderstood his words and that he would be willing to talk to me and apologize. Naw Bruh, I want you to keep that same energy and use it in a new job search. I did realize something about myself in all of this. I’m human and I will have human reactions when provoked, but I refuse to apologize for those reactions.
— Kenneth L. Hardin is a freelance writer who lives in North Carolina. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rights retained by author
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