(Originally published in the St. Cloud Times, July 21, 2005)
By Wasim Ahmad
St. Cloud Times
I was driving across town the other day and at one red light, a man was staring at me from the passenger seat of a red, beat-up Dodge minivan. Just before the light turned green, he took the time to call me a terrorist. Actually, he said a little more than that, but it can’t be printed here.
I didn’t know who he was. The only thing I ever did to him was look in his direction. He and the driver of the minivan sped off before I could say a few choice words in return. I tried in vain to catch up with the minivan, just because I’m not one to let such an incident go without saying something about it.
At the next red light, as I was still reeling from the comment at the previous signal, a man pulled up in an old gray Honda Accord. We made eye contact. I braced for the name calling.
But it never came. He said “How ya doing?” and gave me a wave. Just for having made eye contact. That’s great.
The next day, a jet-black Volkswagen pulled up next to me at a light. I noticed the Confederate flag in place of its front license plate.
In true boy-racer fashion, he revved his engine to signal a short sprint to the next light, and so I obliged, keeping it all under legal speed limits, of course.
At the next light he rolled down the window, and complimented me on my car. After some short banter about our vehicles, we went our separate ways.
It was surprising because, on first sight of the Confederate flag, I tensed up. I associate the flag with the racism and slavery prevalent in the South, for which it stands.
But perhaps I misjudged the driver of the Volkswagen, just like the person who called me a terrorist misjudged me.
It’s tough, though, to wonder each day whether someone will harass you on the way to work just for being different.
It’s enough to make a guy roll up the windows in the car and turn on the air conditioning, rather than deal with random rude comments from passing motorists. I don’t want to do that. I like driving around with my windows down, and I like talking to people waiting in traffic or sitting at a stop light.
But you look at everyone and you never know what’s next.
What the person in the red minivan doesn’t realize is that what he said will stick with me forever. I’m probably one of many brown people he has derided as a terrorist, and I guarantee each person he has attacked will remember the incident for a long time.
And that’s sad, that a racial epithet is barely a blip on the radar for this guy. It might as well be an atom bomb to his targets.
I wonder what he’d do if one of his friends ever pointed out to him that he was a racist. Does he even know he is a racist? The ones who are never do.
The next time I see the man in the red minivan, he’s not getting away without hearing from me. I hope he’s not carrying a shotgun in the back seat.
And if I see the man in the Accord again? Well, I might just get out of my car and shake his hand. St. Cloud needs more people like him.
This is the opinion of Wasim Ahmad, a copy editor at the St. Cloud Times. This is his last column for the Times Writers Group.
© 2005 St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud, Minn.