Color and character in the Inland Northwest
On the night it happens, the air hangs heavy with a thick mist in mid-freeze that strikes our skin like needles.
My brother, Shane, and I are walking home from a night spent downtown at the rock bar Mootsy's. We are drunk but, as we both remember it, happy.
Two white kids — one tall and chubby, one short and skinny — approach us, asking for cigarettes. They are dressed, to Shane's recollection, "a little gangster," wearing baggy denim, oversized white T-shirts, brightly colored goose-down parkas.
Shane, then 22, tells them he doesn't have any. They ask again. Again, Shane says, "Nope."
"Come on, homey." The tall kid is doing the talking.
They are nearly on top of us now.
"I said I don't smoke," Shane says, but because Shane and I have been drinking, and because he has gotten aggravated, it doesn't end there. Shane's sentence concludes with: "you little bitch."
The talker immediately wheels on Shane, the flat of his hands hitting my brother in the chest. The tall one says, "Who you calling a little bitch?" or something like that.
The shorter kid steps to meet me while Shane and the taller kid go back and forth, the kid verbally on the offensive.
Shane doesn't back down. He has a quick wit and, without apologizing to the kid, he begins to disarm him with jokes. Finally, my brother says: "It's OK to admit — you wish you were a brown man."
The kid stops and laughs. "Yeah, I got love for you."
"You got love for the brown man?"
"It's all love, homey."
"You wanna hug it out?" Shane asks.
They hug it out. But it isn't over. Not for Shane anyway. He shoots away, practically at a jog. He's mumbling to himself, nearly raving. I ask what was going on, but he won't say.
I keep asking.
Finally, he screams — at the top of his lungs, straight into the sky — "I f---ing hate white people!"
It has been 60 years since Carl Maxey became the first black person to pass the bar in Eastern Washington, 30 years since Spokane elected its first (and only) black mayor, and just over a year since a man named Kevin Harpham planted a bomb along the Martin Luther King Jr Day parade route.
Simple facts like these were the inspiration for this yearlong series, which seeks to explore how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in achieving a community that is not simply fair and just, but understanding, open and equal.
If you have tips or story ideas, or just want to offer some feedback, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 509-0634 ext. 234.
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