Reacting or Responding: The difference between the two and which to choose.
Earlier last week, upon leaving my finite class, I was in a foul mood. The class has been plaguing me since the first exam and only become more arduous with each passing class. There is something about math, no matter the difficulty level, that causes this very nasty side of me to rear its head. Typically, I go to lick my wounds for an hour or so and talk myself into a more optimistic mood, however on Monday my boyfriend, a math wiz, encouraged me to share with him and not hold it in, as a way for us to bond. So, I began to unload my sour thoughts as I walked back to my dorm, at one point a boy walking ahead of me stopped and stood directly in the path of where I was turning. Now, this happens all of the time, and I hardly notice because there are so many people on campus trying to get to all sorts of places, but I was already agitated so this bothered me immensely and I said to my boyfriend, “ I wish everyone on this campus would just disappear and not be in my way.” even now I feel a level of shame admitting to anyone other than those who know me best that I said such an ugly and self-absorbed thing. Yet, it was what took place next that truly floored me, another boy who must have been walking behind me commenced to curse me out, being obscene and abandoning all sense on self-respect. I was so stunned by his belligerence that I did what I always do when I am nervous, I laughed. This seemed to only further agitate him and he continued to curse me out getting louder and louder, and despite me having not responded or done anything publicly untoward, I was embarrassed. I am still not sure if I was embarrassed for him or because of him, and maybe it is this fact that so strongly unsettles me.
Subsequently, my Boyfriend, Xavier, was on the phone during this and heard everything that had transpired verbally between me and the Caucasian boy who had cursed me out. Now, I had assumed that the call had disconnected because after all of this had taken place when I looked down at my phone I saw it disconnect. However, when I spoke with him later he informed me that he had hung up the phone, I was genuinely dismayed and asked him why. Xavier, who has one of the calmest demeanors of all of the people I have me, lost his temper and let me know he could not stand to stay on the phone and hear a man, especially a white one, speak to me in such a manner. He also said, that even more than that he refused to listen to me ALLOW that man to speak to me like that. Furthermore he let me know that my temper, which I had garnered a reputation for in high school whenever confronted with what I presumed to be disrespect, should have been unleashed and I should have defended myself. Xavier is not the only person to share this opinion with me, when I have told my friends and family about what happened, everyone felt that I should have either physically engaged this boy or verbally assaulted him back. Nevertheless, I have decided to use this blog as a platform to explain why I, as a young black woman, chose not to respond back to that, white boy.
First, I want to be clear that I was far beyond irate and incensed by the way that I was addressed. I am not in the habit of holding my tongue or sparring people when it comes to me feeling disrespected or offended, and I am a firm believer in demanding respect with your presence and your actions as an individual. However, I chose not to respond because I am no longer in an all black high school where me defending myself won’t turn into me being just another angry black woman. My mother always impressed upon me the difference between reacting and responding, that reacting is based solely on emotion, is instantaneous, and is not reflective of a person’s true nature. Responding is founded in reason and is done in a mental space of contemplation, but most importantly it allows us to reflect who we truly are in most instances. I wish that I had, had the opportunity to respond to that boy, but in reality I know that nothing I could say would effect someone of that nature. The truth is that he cursed me out in front of complete strangers not caring what they thought of him or his behavior and with zero regard for me as a woman, or a person in general. Reason is wasted on the willfully ignorant, and knowing that I chose not to waste my time explaining to him how or why he was wrong. To some degree Xavier, as a black male cannot understand my plight as a black woman or the emotional scale that I must always balance and maintain. Black women are stereotyped for being loud, angry, and belligerent and I did not want to perpetuate that stereotype by feeding into it. Furthermore, I did not care to shuck and jive in front of all of the white pedestrians who stood idly by as I was verbally assaulted by returning that boys sentiments. Most importantly, I did not wish to further the negativity that I had already put out into the world, which inadvertently began this whole debacle.