Saturday, November 26, 2011

Breaking Bread with a Racist

Before I start this entry, I'd like to apologize in advance in the event that I use language that I wouldn't otherwise use, however do to the nature of the situation, and the emotion wrapped-around, my ability to filter get a little bit out of wack when I speak about this particular matter.

Part of me is surprised that this is the first time I've encountered racism. Maybe it's the bubble I seem to periodically function in that prevents me from really seeing it around me, or maybe I'm more naive than I'd like to believe I am. Whatever the case is, the events that I'm about to relay to you is the first time I have ever encountered racism in my immediate world ...

Several weeks ago I invited a friend of mine to a dinner that I was going to be attending. Before extending an invitation to my friend, I contacted one of the individuals whose home the dinner party was going to be at to find out if I could do so. Without any hesitation I was told my friend was more then welcome at the dinner and they looked forward to having them join everyone. So, I extended the invitation and it was happily accepted. I informed my hosts that my friend would be joining; however, this time I gave my hosts my friends name - I thought it might be a good idea for them to know who was joining the fun just in case I didn't make it to the dinner before them (we were driving separately).

Two hours later I received a call from someone else attending the dinner. Another person going to the dinner was looking for me and I was suppose to give them a call. (Now, I feel the need to digress a bit and say that there are certain people who only call me when something is wrong. It's a horrible thing to assume, but the truth of the matter is that that is the nature of my relationship with this particular individual. So, when I heard they were looking for me . . .) I asked the person I was talking to what was wrong. After some hesitation I was told why. It turns out that the hostess had gone onto facebook and looked my friend up so they would have a face with the name. Upon looking my friend up on facebook, the hostess saw my friend is African American which she knew would be a problem for her family that would be attending this dinner as well.

"Not as open minded" is the phrase that was used when I was told all this... I don't exactly remember because I had to have it repeated to me because I was sure my hearing was out of whack and heard what was said incorrectly.

Unfortunately, I had heard everything LOUD and CLEAR. My reaction to this news was... well... let's just say I still have to take deep breaths when I recollect this conversation. After getting off this conversation I called one of my friends to figure out how I was suppose to tell my friend the new. Typically, people come to me asking how they should phrase difficult messages as I possess the ability to phrase things in a diplomatic manner, however this was one time I was the one who was stumped. While relaying the details I found saying "racist" difficult and quite uncomfortable. (I wasn't about to sugar-coat the situation my using the phrase "not as open minded".) There was silence on the other end after I shared the events that had just transpired. My friend, like me, was at a loss. Even after speaking with their spouse and kids about it they still had nothing to me other than saying what had to be said in the rawest way possible. I knew what I had to say, I just wasn't ready to say it. It took me over 24 hours to call my friend. I was sure they'd handle the situation just fine, but it was still a conversation I was ready to initiate as I still felt deeply about what was transpiring.

As expected, my friend received the news just fine. This wasn't the first time something like this happened and it probably wouldn't be the last time. I informed them I had e-mailed the host and hostess that I would not be attending the dinner as well. My friend told me that I shouldn't miss out and that they would understand if I went... "We're cool," they said.

Despite it being cool with my friend, I couldn't see how I was suppose to look at these people knowing what I knew about them. It wouldn't be the first time I kept company with them, but it would be the first time I would see them in this light. I struggled with this decision. Ultimately, my decision to attend the dinner was a last-minute one (less than 24 hours beforehand). I stilled worried about encountering these individual, but I figured I was mature enough to figure out a way to be at the dinner with them and not let this ruin my evening.

My game plan was simple - interact as little as possible to the hostesses' family. At one point during the evening, one of them invited me to sit next to them as we conversed about football and the NBA lockout. I politely declined and kept my thoughts on both topics short and simple. When it came to the actual meal I strategically chose which table I sat at so I wouldn't have to be at "their" table. (Thankfully there were enough of us to warrant two tables.)

I won't lie and say I didn't see the ginormous, rainbow-striped elephant in the room that evening. (As far as I was concerned we might as well have set a place at the table for it and served up an extra plate of food.) I'm just not sure if anyone else saw it as well. Part of me wanted to say something, but it wasn't the place nor the time to ask.

Even though the dinner has come and gone I know I'll probably still think about this situation for awhile to come. It has been an eye-opening experience. If any good could come from this situation it's that it put a well-needed hole in the bubble that seems to shelter me from these types of realities. Additionally, it has further affirmed and made me more appreciative of who I am, the life I lead and the things I stand for.

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