Hitchhiker

I’m concerned that I’ve contributed to racial stereotyping.

A few days ago, my wife was approached by two youngish black guys at a gas station. They’d missed the last bus to take them to their destination, and were now stranded. It was around 10:30. They asked her if she could give them a ride into Sanford, which was about 25 minutes away. As any spouse would do, she called me to ask what I thought.

The question wasn’t whether or not she should give them a ride by herself (I think that goes without saying), but whether or not she could come pick me up so we could take them together.

I’m not thrilled about giving rides to strangers. I’ve done it before, but I don’t think I’d make the same decision if I had to do it again. I’m wary of anyone asking for a ride, despite the appearance and motives of the person. I’d like to think I have a pretty good judge of character, in fact, part of my job depends on picking up on non-verbal clues about people. But you never really know. Especially when it comes to any potential of my wife being in danger. I’m not a domineering, overprotective husband, either. I just don’t want my wife in any potentially dangerous situation if it can be avoided easily.

She’d tried to call them a cab, but couldn’t get an estimate of the price because the guys were unsure of the address where they were headed. After my wife had picked me up, I made a call to the cab company. This just seemed to be the easiest decision.

When we got to the gas station and met the guys, I didn’t get a weird or dangerous vibe from them at all. They genuinely seemed upset that they’d gotten stranded, and thankful for any help we could give them. One of them was concerned that they wouldn’t have enough money for the cab to get them where they needed to go (the cab company still couldn’t give me an estimate, despite knowing the name of the apartment complex). He didn’t want to end up stranded again. He asked me why we couldn’t just take them. I told him we didn’t know them, and felt better about just giving them money for a cab.

The driver arrived shortly thereafter, and we asked him for a better price estimate. After making sure there was enough money, they took off.

I wonder what these guys thought of the whole thing. Specifically, I hope they didn’t look at my wife and me as some typical, scared-of-anyone-with-dark-skin white folks who, instead of personally helping a couple of black guys out, solved the problem with cash. Especially if they were really what they appeared to be – a couple of harmless kinds that needed a ride.

I asked myself if I gave into my own racial prejudices. Did not inviting them into my car have to do with the fact they were both black? Especially since on of them was a least 6’4″ and the other was pretty stocky himself? Or how bout the fact that they wanted to go into Sanford, maybe the most racially tense area in the country right now thanks to a recent trial? Maybe you’ve heard about it.

I asked myself if this had been a young white couple, a blonde guy and a pretty girl, at 10:00 a.m., asking for a ride into Winter Park, would that have changed my answer? When I really think about the answer to this – I’d have called a cab for these hypothetical people as well. Does that mean my own prejudices played no part in the real life situation? I don’t know.

Look, I wish things were different. I wish we lived in a world where there was never any danger in picking up hitchhikers. But why take the chance, when the problem can be solved another way? Do other people feel like this? Am I just paranoid? Should I have gone against my own discomfort and let them in the car specifically because they were black so as not to contribute to racial stereotypes?

Am I overthinking this whole situation?

I just hope that if ever those two guys think back about that night, they remember us as people that helped them, not as two scared white people who gave them money to make them go away.

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