Yesterday, while keeping busy with the metering of note cards and greeting of Northerner’s at the model homes in which I temporarily toil, I met two women. They were girlfriends in their 50’s who left their husbands at home and were enjoying a week of sun and sand together. All seemed good as we engaged each other in conversation. They were both from Long Island, New York, which gave us an instant common denominator. (My mom is from New York and my parents live there again). Until the overt racism came forth, I would have considered the meeting basically pleasant.
There I am, in a position of customer service, met with the challenge of being engaged in conversation with racist commentary. Not like this is new. I am white, after all.
It’s like that Eddie Murphy skit that he did on SNL back in the day. You know the one…when he dresses in white face and experiences life in a privileged, white America. It is damn funny. One part shows him on the bus, and when the last black person gets off, the cocktails come out, disco ball drops, and the party gets started, as if the “real” life of being white in America can commence, now that the black folk aren’t watching.
The funny part is that, while the skit is exaggerated for effect, the message is well taken. Because I am white, other white people presume that they are free to make totally racist comments to me, as if we are secretly in some “white club of supremacists” together. Not so.
The challenge I faced was to react with compassion and understanding, instead of completely shooting down this tired and ignorant rhetoric. (Like I just did there). Well, I am not that evolved now, but I was able to at least remain calm and inquisitive. That sparked one of the women to half-heartedly apologize for her “piggish-ness,” proclaiming that she was just “raised that way.” Ho hum.
At home last night, I thought about this exchange, annoyed that I work in a place, even if temporarily, in which I must be subjected to such spewing. A reminder, I thought, of how I am not on the path that I wish to be on, with insightful, intelligent, ego-less people all along the way shining their light, allowing me to better myself by osmosis. Ha ha.
And then, the movie Gandhi was on. Just like that. Right there on the Tee-Vee. As if to say, “so, you think you’ve got it hard, huh? Poor you, privileged white woman in a white country, having to listen to other white women be racist. AWE.” But better than that. So much better.
It reminded me that the best way to change the world is by changing myself. (This, again. Hmmm). To aspire to the place at which these women merely present an opportunity to shine light. That sometimes, not replying with words, but instead teaching through action, is the best way to lead. And those words, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” uttered by Gandhi at a time when he and his people were being beaten and murdered, rang loud and true in my head.
The universe, in all of her infinite glory, wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing all of this, as if whispering to me, “you are ready and now is the time.” And then she gave me this on the way home from work tonight…
The Nickel Creek, Pennsylvania Amish community, one-year after a shooting that killed 5 Amish children (the killer was NOT Amish, and killed himself in the tragedy), donated money to the killer’s widow and her three young children. An act of forgiveness is the reason, while living their truth is the catalyst.
I think the most powerful demonstration of the depth of Amish forgiveness was when members of the Amish community went to the killer’s burial service at the cemetery…Several families, Amish families who had buried their own daughters just the day before were in attendance and they hugged the widow, and hugged other members of the killer’s family.”
I’m not sure if I totally believe that non-violence is always the answer. Theoretically, it’s clearly the way, but when I picture myself in a situation that threatens the lives of me and my loved ones, I doubt my ability to remain a pacifist. It is something to work towards, though, as lofty as it may be. And these stories, of every day people commiting incredible acts of super-human-ness – perfectly and simply – help to show me the way.