I tried to interject all of the reasons why that statement is not true, but he would not let up, so I just listened…
“I don’t care what that guy in the house with the Confederate flag thinks about me; that does not affect me. What affects me is when I go to the bank and my loan request is rejected when his would not be. I have a business but I cannot get a better home for my child to live in.”
I could not argue. Zach’s term ‘racist’ refers to the common inequitable treatment and oppression of black people in this country by those who have actual power over their lives: bankers, lawyers, policemen,… His use of the term ‘racist’ is not the same as how I use the term, but the issue of terminology became irrelevant; the truth behind his statement stands…and I know it. What could have devolved into a debate over semantics stayed ‘in the relevant’ becasue Zach and I know each other and he had something important to teach me. South Carolina Senator, Tim Scott won huge points from many people when he suggested to President Trump, calmly and to his face, that President Trump should get to know some black people; it’s a shame Donald Trump does not follow suggestions or advice.
“Black people don’t have anything white people want but can’t get…nothing like the power to hold things from white people.”
He was wrong. Since that brief discussion on ‘racism,’ Zach has observed a member of his own family, a building contractor, treat me with a similar ‘non-standard,’ grossly over-estimating the cost of a simple job. Because Zach and I know each other, and we have built a trust in each other, he was able to look at the situation with open eyes and he saw the inequity immediately.
“I would never have believed that of him; I mean, that’s like saying I would do that. That’s how much I would not have expected him to over-charge you.”
That Zach and I know each other is not the only force at work here; I am learning how to not jump into habitual reactions, how to remain open and ‘soft’ in interactions with people…for the express purpose of opening my own mind toward a more successful practice of healing the injuries of hate, racism, and fear-based disregard of others. I know, that sounds pompous and arrogant, but it is true; I do have such an intention. For that reason, I worked hard to maintain my composure when Zach hit me in the chest:
“I’m not moved by your compassion in your blog post simply because you experienced poverty for a while. It is a new thing to you. You make a big deal about leaving red envelopes of money at gas stations for someone who has no money for gas. Well, that’s everybody in this community every day.”
I was stunned, hurt, ….and embarrassed. I had been proud of my turning a hard time for myself into a letter of compassion for others, but my efforts were paltry and more than a bit pathetic, seen now through the eyes of Zach. From his perspective, I came across sounding condescending, patronizing, sactimonious, and proud of having helped someone, somehow. He is right…but not totally; poverty was a new thing for me two years ago, but I have not been able to rise above it. The toilet bowl kind of suck of poverty, which is a constant reality in Zach’s community, is extending its reach to more and more of us who once lived comfortably. From this septic tank level, however, I can still write, talk, and share stories.
I have been blessed in my friendship with Zach. It has not been easy because these gut punches hurt, but we are both better for it.