Saturday, September 20, 2008

Coffeehouse Altercations


To me, that has always seemed like an out of date, Southern, ignorant perspective only seen in the movies or read in books. It has never really presented itself to me up close and personal... until last night. I know that racism exists, but to actually be in the midst of people who think that hate can be justified is bewildering. Absolutely inconceivable to me.

Where to begin? One of my co-workers who has been especially hard for me to get along with just so happens to be in 11th grade. I love high school boys; they are so charming. He has made comments that make me cringe on mulitiple occasions, and last night was my breaking point. He jokingly made a racist comment, not uncommon in the least for him. I could no longer roll my eyes and simply tell him that he was acting like an asshole. No, this was our time to hash it out. What proceeded was an hour and half conversation about why he feels like it is acceptable to say and ultimately, think a certain way. It was somewhat productive. He learned that he feels superior to minorities, and that society has trained him to believe that money makes a person more valuable. But when I would ask him what he believes and not what society believes, he had no clue.

This kid is an extremely intelligent, albeit extremely annoying, young boy. I told him that I expected him to be able to back up his comments. He couldn't. He repeated, "I can say it because it's the truth!" To me, that is not an argument. And he couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that simply saying something is true or right doesn't actually make it true or right, and that generalizations amount to nothing. And at one point I asked him what he valued, how he decided one person was superior than another. Was it money? Race? Affluence? Intelligence? And he admitted that he did not know what he valued. He wanted to know, but he had never thought about it.

It was frustrating. It was mind-blowing. But it was needed. He asked me all kinds of questions about why I believe the way I do. Why I don't care about money like he does, why I value certain things about others, etc. It was good. And I had the opportunity to give him my raw perspective on life. On my struggles with judging people who are rich, who are ungrateful, who wear mini-skirts and who pop their collars. We learned from each other.

Oswald Chambers said in today's devotional, "When we come into contact with things that create confusion... we find to our amazement that we have the power to stay wonderfully poised even in the center of it all." He was not speaking about racism, but I will take it as a sign that my words were not my own. I was a well full of questions, answers, comments that were surprisingly genuine and non-aggressive. I was astouned at the conversation because although it was intense, we were respectful of each other. God was bringing to mind things I have learned and experiences I've had that had relevance to the topic. It was strange how beautifully it all come out and how it all fit together to shed light on the heart of the topic.

And then all hell broke loose. Another co-worker came in. The high schooler and I were mid-conversation, learning from each other, beginning to get somewhere... and then she walked in. I expected an ally. I expected decent human kindness. And all I got was a whole new battle.

This girl asked what we were talking about and I said, "(insert boys name here) made another racist comment and we are talking about why he thinks its okay and I think its wrong." And she looked at me and said, "Hail Hitler." I laughed an uncomfortable laugh. She had to be joking, right? And then she said, "I think racism is okay." I wanted to cry- out of frustration, out of disappointment, out of loneliness, out of brokeness.

The one who I thought would be my ally became my toughest opponent. I let her explain to me and I tried to listen with respect. But it was lost on me. First of all, the reasons and arguments that these two co-workers proceeded to berade me with sounded very unintelligent to me. Maybe it's the fact that they haven't been to college and have never had to give a real argument. I told them that a professor would tear them apart if they ever wrote a paper with those kind of generalizations, opinions, statements and absolutely nothing to back them up. No evidence. Nothing. But secondly, here were two young people who are justifying their hatred and superiority toward other humans. It was utterly heart-breaking. I kept thinking not only about the people that they are expressing superiority over but about them. What is it like to live with a hatred toward your fellow humans? Real, honest hate.

I left work with a feeling of utter disgust. I called my dear friend Caitlin, a non-racist like m'self, and she let me rant and cuss and scream about the night. We talked a long time about racism. About how we were raised and how racism creeps into everyday life in America. And she eloquently stated that "hatred can never be healthy." Where there is hatred, there is no health. And that is the root of it all. Hatred can never and should never be justified.

I cannot get that conversation out of my mind- maybe because I need to think about it more. But I have literally had tears well up in my eyes as I replay certain aspects of that conversation. The hatred disgusts me. The lack of love and complete disregard for humanity makes me heart hurt. Racism is real. It is not so uncommon as I once thought. And it slapped me in the face.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Molly. I am so proud of you. That was an important conversation to have. Necessary. And I think you expressed it very well on here. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for thinking...questioning....seeking truth. I enjoyed tonight a lot. I love you so much.