"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Strangers in the store

I grew up in the South.  The real South.  The kind of South where if a non-white person was in line at the post office, everyone looked, intently, and wondered who that person was.  They didn't mean it to be cruel, it was just unusual.  The same kind of look people gave us in Korea... the kind of look that says "I would know if I'd seen you before.  You don't look like us."

I grew up with the rest of Generation X in a time where noticing race was supposed to be taboo.  Everything after my rural Southern high school taught us to be "color blind."

And I just can't be color blind.  I think our modern society is slowly figuring out that no one really can be color blind and no one really should.  It's just that they should ALL be our favorite colors.  Why should I give up the opportunity to find Africans charming, Asians fascinating, Europeans educational, and South Americans friendly... and the opportunity to see that reflected in their descendants, Americanized and settled.

So I might notice you in the store.  Even if I'm in your neighborhood.  And if I notice you noticing me, I might smile (because that's the polite thing to do) and I'm just Southern enough that if we're waiting in line together I might even strike up a conversation, though I'm a little introverted so I might not, too.

And so I was in line in the store in a nearby, rather suburban, rather urban, rather hardscrabble neighborhood.  (How a place can be both urban and suburban is uniquely Pittsburgh, but if you've spent much time here, you know what I mean.)

In front of me was an older lady, racially some sort of African brown.  And definitely not upper class.  She was buying her food at the local grocery, counting out cash.  She made a tiny error... and her whole presence was just so positive that I looked up (my kids were driving me nuts) and everything about the woman next to me, who by all logic should have been a little stressed out and testy (as I myself was on the verge of being) was so gentle, I couldn't resist her.  I smiled and lest she think I was staring (the South dies hard) I went back to what I was doing... turning away, I could feel her smile back.

After she checked out, she came back into the store for something while I was checking out.  She slipped in behind my kids and my middle child practically backed into her.  And she did something so atypical of America in our generation... she gently put both hands on his shoulders and just radiated gentleness. 

Nobody would touch another person's kid these days... not even in such an innocent way.
And in our charged society, for a black woman to touch a white kid she doesn't know would be seen as asking for trouble.

But she wasn't on guard.
She was just being herself.
And it made me wish she was someone I knew. 

America, be more like that, please.  When it comes to race, and strangers in the store, and little mistakes and inconveniences that are just part of life, let down your guard and don't be afraid to smile.

And lady in the store, whoever you are, thanks for blazing the trail.

1 comment:

  1. But, the same ones who make and enforce the rules that say you must be color blind also make and enforce the rules that a kindly colored lady cannot touch you white child. Catch 22.

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