Strangers in Strange Lands


[MCU Park, Coney island; home of the Brooklyn Cyclones*]

You know how, sometimes, you can spot a face in the crowd and suddenly, that one stranger is the only person you see? And how, because the expression on his or her face is so revealing, so nakedly truth-telling, you feel as though you have a reasonably good chance of knowing what’s going on with that person? Me, too.

Two days after the attack at the satirical magazine, “Charlie Hebdo,” office in Paris when twelve people were murdered, on a bitterly cold night in Davis Square; that’s when I spotted him. Maybe Ethiopian, maybe Eritrean, maybe Muslim, his distress, frustration, anger were palpable. He wore a blue, embroidered ski hat, the kind that hangs over your ears and could be tied under your chin—only nobody does—and a suitably warm jacket. “Well, at least he’s dressed for this horrible cold,” I thought. At least.

Okay, maybe he’d just had a fight with his girlfriend. Maybe his boss had given him a hard time. Maybe his distress centered on the cold. Why wouldn’t it? But I tend to think that he, a stranger in a strange land, was feeling his alienation—as in being an outsider, a dark face in a sea of white—with every cell of his being. And that his loneness infuriated him.

To catch the briefest glimpse of that man’s lonely, painful fury (if, in fact, that’s what I saw) was, for me to contemplate the Kouachi brothers, who’d murdered 12 cartoonists two days before, and the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers. 

Don’t get me wrong: I am not condoning murder. And I am not saying that every immigrant is a potential murderer. Absolutely NOT! I am merely saying at for a fleeting moment on a cold winter’s night I may have spotted the same pain and alienation that has generated so much pain.

* That man in the white cap and T shirt stood for the entire game although repeatedly asked and begged to sit down.


Join the Conversation


  1. Dear Patricia,

    Hi, there, Patricia! Wow, wow, wow my dearest and precious Christian white sister! Wow and wow and wow! What a very astute, aware, and sensitive blog post article which you have so, so very graciously and generously composed. I love the loving and caring, sensitive manner in which you wrote on how the man of color you observed might be actually thinking and the cause of his angry and distressed countenance. I love so how you were so concerned and interested in this man of color’s story, and what his needs and concerns are in his life, and what was underlying his anger and stress. You cared so deeply for this man of color and gently wanted to know how he manages and process being a man of color in a milieu where it is a majority white area. I loved how you took the time and the care to be interested in knowing this man of color’s plight, and to be interested in what his needs and concerns would be, Patricia! Once again as usual as always you have demonstrated how you are a true blue wondrously wonderful white woman as a very fine and excellent, empowering white anti-racist and ally in solidarity, sister!!!!!!

    I, too, like to people watch, and to study people’s faces, and to discern what their personality, character, or mood is based upon their faces and other body language. I key into really well what people’s moods are like this way because I am very perceptive and am able to intuit a person’s mood and deneanor by the power of discerning observation. I can sure relate to you in this way, Sister, and in many other ways.

    Sisterfriend, you may be right in thinking this man may have felt socially alienated and isolated as a stranger in a strange land with his dark face in a sea of white as you so sensitively wrote. I think of how I once felt when I was a lot younger (but still even then far less that other blacks and other nonwhite persons for I have for always loved white persons, open to white persons, and reached out to them-loving so, so very much and cherishing especially white women as the lesbian black woman I am for white women are my very heart!!!!!!!) Growing up black middle class in a majority white suburb back in the 1960s and 1970s I had been very self-conscious back then as a black girl for being different from my white friends and classmates. Back then and even in my earlier twenties when I went to an event or entered a room I would self-consciously scan the crowd to see if I were the only black person there, or if there were any other blacks or persons of color, and if to, how many. I have belonged to majority white churches all of my life, and back in the 1980s when I was a member of a majority white church back then I described it as a “white church.” I realize now that I was wrong for describing my church back then that way when it would be more appropriate to describe as a majority white church because to describe as a “white church” makes it sound to me like something is wrong being in church community with beautiful inside and out children of God white persons.For many, many years now I am recovering and healing, and I no longer feel that self-consciousness towards white people, and I am more myself and much more in a comfort zone around white persons, even in majority white settings-although I have always had a comfort zone around wondrously wonderful white persons-it is just that my comfort zone has increased, Sister.

    As the liberal and progressive Christian woman who I am, I dislike Islamaphobia and the over generalizations and stereotypes about Muslims-not necessarily saying that the magazine people did this and I am so, so very saddened and heaartbroken over their murders. I also dislike antisemitism against magnificent Jewish people who I love so and cherish. I believe all belief systems or the lack thereof are indeed valid. I pray so hard that religious prejudice and bigotry against minority religions will cease as soon as possible. I so dislike religious bigotry and prejudice. I want and desire for all of us as our Good God’s dearest and darling children to live together in peace, unity, harmony, and love, sister.

    Patricia, I thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for always so, so very profusely for this magnificent and powerfully inspiring blog post article. Sister, you have such a great gift being a master of composition in the written word! You and your astounding and empowering writings are for always my eternal blessings, as you are a blessing to your other very grateful and appreciative readers! Patricia, please have a Very Happy rest of your Wednesday, and may all of your days be so, so very especially blessed, my dearest and precious Christian white sisterfriend who you are so, so very much as the incredibly amazing white woman who you are as a spectacular white ant-racist and ally in solidarity!!!!!!!!

    Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my sister, and Blessings and Even More Blessings To You For Always, my sisterfriend,

    Your Christian lesbian black sisterfriend For Always in solidarity, Sherry Gordon

  2. Ha, I’ve always wondered what exactly you were seeing as you “people-watched” out in the world. You have an eye (and imagination) — as shown also in your impressive photography.

    I just read in the NY Times about jihadists recruited in Belgium, which has contributed hugely, on a per capita basis, to radical Islamic groups. It seems that the big recruiting ground is prisons. Another clear reason for us in the west to find alternatives to incarceration for our poor underclass.


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