Xenophobic or cautious — where do we draw the line?

I recently had a conversation with an official after I requested hand sanitizer while volunteering at an event. The official’s response was everyone is xenophobic. I disagreed. Here is the backstory.

I was masked as requested and taking precautions, but at all the previous events giant bottles of hand sanitizer had been available. The first few events my process was that I reached into a person’s car, dropping off packages, and then sanitized my hands. I had volunteered at three similar events and the turnout had been small.

For this last event I hadn’t processed it was summer and the people I’d be serving would be from all over the state and country. The event was laid out a bit differently and now hand sanitizer wasn’t readily available to the volunteers. This time cars were lined up to the road with a variety of license plates. Normally I would just have played the license plate game with my child, but instead, I requested hand sanitizer. Did this request make me xenophobic? The official responded with a resounding, “Yes.” I still don’t think so. I didn’t treat the people coming and going any differently than the other three events. One man got out of his car and we laughed while he attempted to open his trunk. I wasn’t afraid of him or his state plates, but I still used hand sanitizer when he drove away. I’m pretty sure he was dousing himself with disinfectant after talking with me. I would not be insulted if he did. It’s a sad sign of the times.

I look at the realization that I am surrounded by people from all over as a blessing. I thought I was being diligent with my sanitation process, but I’d gotten complacent. I saw the addition of different state license plates as a reminder that I have to be careful because I have a person in my home with a compromised immune system. Perhaps I’m blind to my own shortcomings, if so I’m willing to learn.

I also recently read that an elderly family was getting takeout and berated by a local because of their out of state plates. Think about a world where someone yelled at a grandparent because the license plate isn’t from New York. Keep in mind a NY license plate doesn’t mean the person is from NY either. There is no excuse to go into irrational overload.

On a side note, people can change cars and change their license plates, but a person of color can’t change themselves. They can’t hide their physical traits or someone’s reaction to the way they look. Being judged by your license plate is a small taste of what people of color experience every day. So for me, I want to continue to evaluate my reactions. Am I just being cautious or am I actually being xenophobic?


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