Throughout life there’s no escaping our unavoidable “deer in the headlights” moments; times when we’re caught off guard as either the “deer,” or the person about to careen into that poor deer. It’s then when we’re confronted with that split-second decision, occasionally with dire consequences.
Now dare I say that matters of race in a race-conscious America always seem to set up collision moments for many deer and drivers? Our “racial highways” are littered with carcasses, smashed headlights, bent fenders and broken radiators courtesy of our deplorable history of racial collisions.
Let me tell you about my deer in the highlights moment few years back.
After weeks of replacing carpets, painting walls, making indoor repairs and pruning hedges, our house was finally put on the market. But after week one bled into week two, then week three, then weeks four and five with many visitors but no offers, we decided to drop the price. More visitors but still no offers.
Another price drop, then two. Several months passed with a constant flow of visitors, yet no offers. Meanwhile, other houses in our neighborhood were selling like hotcakes.
Finally sensing our growing frustrations, our realtor dropped by late one evening, sat down with us and calmly suggested that our house needed some “minor modifications.”
“Take down the family pictures,” she started as we roamed from one room to another. “And while you are at it, put that picture of President Obama out of sight. The black art needs to be put away,” she continued. “Although your collections of black art and gospel music are impressive, they have to go.”
Okay, it didn’t take rocket science to figure out her rationale. After all, we’re talking about race-conscious America here.
“And let me also suggest that while you’re out that you call me well in advance before coming home in case I’m showing your house. I’ll alert you once the potential buyers leave.”
Now our restlessness to get the house sold trumped any infuriation with having to do some “ethnic cleansing” of our home, so much so that I took extra pain to ferret out any other telltale signs of our “blackness.” So the frozen collards in the freezer had to go as did all the ethnic hair products and my Derek Jeter cologne. And outside I put up three American flags I came across in a closet while storing our black art.
Our black magazines ended up in the closet. And further, we alerted our black friends, the ones accustomed to dropping by on a whim without prior notice, to now call us before showing up. And even though they would have understood, we decided not to issue a similar alert to our white friends in the neighborhood, although their stopping by may not have been such a bad idea, now that I think about it.
Turning now to my deer in the headlights moment.
You see, having forgotten some stuff I needed for work that Tuesday, I rushed back home to get it that afternoon. The realtor’s car normally parked directly in front of our house, this time was parked in front of the house next to ours. I didn’t notice it.
I darted up the driveway, pushed the key into the front door lock and opened it and came face-to-face with my shocked realtor and the potential buying couple — startled deer! — standing in the hallway foyer. They looked at me and I looked at them.
Enter split second decision.
“Oops! Housekeeping,” I blurted out. “Sorry for the interruption. I’ll come back later.” I watched our realtor exhale through a sigh of relief. Two days later our house sold ... to the couple I encountered on that Tuesday afternoon.
Wow, those deer in the headlights moments and the split-second decisions that accompany them will happen when we get caught with our racial “pants down.” Something to think about, huh?
But do not think too long, particularly if you have a relationship to develop, repair or preserve ... or a house to sell.
Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, the Douglas County Sentinel, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org