Friday, July 07, 2006

Lessons from a Jeep

By Cassandra D

A few years ago I was in professional school in Cincinnati. One of my fellow travelers was a tall, dark and handsome, smart, snappy-dressing, smooth-talking ladies' man named Al. I was one of his nerdy friends. Anyway, Al bought a beautiful red Jeep like the one in the photo (but, alas, he did not come up with the beach). I learned two very valuable things from that Jeep.

Maybe it's because I was simultaneously naive and worldly, with a good deal of "be prepared" scouting tossed into the mix. Maybe it's because I'm a girl. Whatever the reason, I had become cautious to the point of paranoia when it came to my car. I never drove with the doors unlocked or any passenger window rolled down very far. I tried never to leave valuables visible inside my car, and I scanned parking lots for bad guys as I returned to my vehicle. Having heard about occasional auto break-ins from my friends, I expected that there were "evildoers" lurking just out of eyesight, ready to pounce at any opportunity.

Enter the Jeep. One day I rode around in it with Al. The top was off the Jeep as it was a beautiful, sunny day. We made multiple stops, and every time, Al left his spare change and some CDs in the car, a mere arm's reach from any passerby. And they were never stolen. He did that as long as I knew him (several years) and never had a problem.

That was mind-boggling and eye-opening to me. I still take the precautions that I used to, but my life is much less ruled by fear. For all the rotten apples out there, I have more faith in the general decency of people.

That was Lesson #1.

As for Lesson #2, you must first understand that Al is black. Right after he got his Jeep, when the paper tags were still on, he was pulled over by the police. No traffic violation. They just wanted to make sure he hadn't stolen it. I could not believe that such a thing would happen in this day and age. (As I said, I was naive.) I told that story to a young doctor who was a pediatrics resident. Was she surprised? Nope. She, too, was black and the same thing had happened to her when she bought her new car.

So Lesson #2 for me was that racism is alive and well, and that most white people -- like me -- have no clue what it is like.

Quite a bit of wisdom, all thanks to a Jeep.


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