TV people and news personalities have never ending commentary about racism but it is unknown in my church and in my daily world. Of course my world is small. I probably speak to no more than 100 discrete individuals a year and writers spend most of their hours alone with their computers. So when this happened last summer it was a jolt.
My very good friend Pat from Texas came to visit with 3 of her four children. She had married a black man and raised her children entirely in private schools and colleges. The two girls were in their their 20’s and the 2 boys in their early teens. My goal was to get the boys to apply for a job at the white water rafting companies we have up here in the mountains.
That Sunday night we went to a small restaurant. At a table nearby sat an elderly couple in their 60’s eating dinner silently, but the woman, who was well dressed and carefully made up, kept staring at us with something of a smug smile on her face. I was uncomfortable. So was Pat’s 24-year-old daughter Molly, who made a remark that she was used to “this stuff.”
After working at a male juvenile prison I’ve noticed that boys react to events much differently from girls. They will be angry or disgusted, while girls are more often angry and sad. The boys had this “same ole, same ole” look on their faces. As a white woman I’ve been given racist treatment but I try to ignore it; after all, I can always buy the item somewhere else.
The woman’s staring continued through most of the meal. I was upset because these were my treasured guests. Finally the couple finished their meal but as they got up we noticed something unusual – the wife didn’t seem to react to her husband or to anyone else. She stared into the distance as before, smiling but almost dead-eyed.
I wondered, is she possibly blind? Her husband guided her to the cashier like a grocery cart, and then it became obvious to us all that she either had Alzheimer’s or was partly demented. At no time did she speak to anyone.
Then we all looked very sheepishly at each other! Here we had jumped to the conclusion that we were victims of racism. How quick we were to react when we did not have all the facts.
Maybe this is happening in the wider world too. Maybe it makes headlines and good photo ops to call it racism when it is something else. After all, a crime in a store can be simply a crime, not about the race and who is the criminal? It is far too easy to say people are criminals because of race or lack of income and education, but a large number of Islamic terrorists were well off financially and well educated. It is a foolish business to ascribe motives when we don’t really know what they are. The woman’s blank, sickly sweet smile looked like contempt. In actual fact her mind was far, far away from us and that restaurant.
The media has used our ignorance and our rush to judgment to stir up antagonism in our society. While we cannot know everyone’s motive we can turn off the TV news and discipline those who pander to public emotion. It’s not much but it is a start.