I had an odd experience the other day, one that took me a few days to process before I could really wrap my brain around.
John and I went out for lunch last Sunday at one of our favorite restaurants. It's not fancy or in the greatest area in town, but they do seafood with a down-home flair that is INCREDIBLE! No lie, I would bathe in their applesauce, it's THAT damn good.
We had just finished an incredible lunch when an older gentleman arrived and the hostess started to lead him to a table next to ours. About 10 feet away he saw where he was heading, planted his feet and with a wild-eyed glare at us, loudly proclaimed "I won't sit next to no white people".
It was clear that nearly everyone within ear shot was as shocked as we were. We are often the only white faces in the room at this restaurant, but we've always felt totally welcome in the past.
The hostess took him to a table diagonal to us, in the opposite corner of the room. You literally could not get further away.
At first, I was so stunned that I couldn't believe I had heard him correctly, but John confirmed it.
I wont lie, my first response was anger, then indignation. There was a part of me that was deeply hurt by his bigotry and I kind of wanted to discuss it with him. As I thought over it, I realized several things.
First and foremost, he wasn't judging me. He was judging some specter in his mind that was his approximation of "white people". It had nothing to do with who I am or what I do and everything to do with his assumptions.
Second, that must be an incredibly sad way to go through life. I love people from diverse backgrounds, I often learn the most about myself by talking with someone who has extremely different viewpoints. I test out my opinions and sometimes completely debunk them. In fact, I sincerely miss talking politics with my super conservative friends because they gave me such a holistic understanding of the political arena and world in general.
Third and most importantly, keeping that kind of fear/distrust/hatred alive cannot help but limit his joy. I have no idea what events occurred in his life to bring him to that view of "white people", but I do know that maintaining that level of vitriol blocks happiness.
I choose to accept people on their individual merit and hope that they do the same for me. That is part of why his judgement shocked me so much, it was based on nothing more than my skin color.
And I know this is nothing new. Cultures throughout the world have been doing this since the beginning of time. No matter who we are underneath, such a senseless distinction as skin color is for most cultures a major sticking point.
Look at modern India, where your entire lifelong worth is determined by skin pigment, and it's not uncommon for girl babies with dark skin to be abandoned in the streets.
It certainly is not a new concept for our nation either. The genocide that the American government levied against the Native American population remains an topic of embarrassment that our culture tends to brush under the carpet. It's as if by ignoring it, we can erase the taint from our collective memories, and thus our history.
To be fair, I don't hate this gentleman for his viewpoint. Sometimes I don't want to sit next to (some) white people either. But I make that distinction only after I have taken the time to get to know them. It has nothing to do with their skin color, and everything to do with the content of their personality.
No, he was feeling ugly and decided to let it out.
So I am choosing not to let it color my view of people. Instead, I have been choosing to smile extra big at total strangers. And whether it makes their day, or it makes them wonder what kind of naughty I am up to, it definitely makes me feel better.
And I am going to focus even harder on making sure that my kids have open, loving hearts because I don't ever want them to make someone else feel like he made me feel: like I am nothing other than a skin color.
Because the point is this: racism and bigotry exist. They exist all over the world in a multitude of ways. But the more we focus on how we are different rather than look for ways that we are the same, the more we nurture that animosity and give it room to grow. And I personally feel that we have had enough. Let's let old lines of demarcation die, and rejoice in the beauty alive in each of us.