Many who read this will conclude that I am racist and I’m okay with that … a funny story is a funny story and I can’t let your perception of me get in the way of that. The joke must go on …
A few nights ago, Dad’s nurse came in, a rather big black man with a beautiful smile. Now, he wasn’t big like tall or big like fat, he was just big. Strong. He had tattoos, but they were tasteful. He, Dad, and Matt talked about the Army. I thanked him for his service. A real stand-up guy. The kinda guy that makes you feel safe to leave your dad in his care.
The next night, I saw another man of the same general build and color, said “hello” and he responded with a warm smile like he knew me. My silly brain said, “Oh! Eric!” so my silly mouth said, “Hi, Eric!” and he bristled… “I don’t look anything like Eric!” I looked him over and said, “Oh! Of course! No tattoos!” He was pissed! I smiled and apologized, didn’t know what else to do.
So last night, I told Dad the story, felt pretty bad, but what could I do? I guess I’m racist! I see color. I see size. Shape. Big boobs. Big eyes. Friendly smile. Not much else. I was berated once by my deacon’s wife (who is white, by the way) when I said, “Hi, I’m Anne Marie!” and she said, “I know! I’ve met you three times already!” I remember features, that’s it. There was nothing I saw (other than lack of tattoos) to distinguish this fella.
So last night, in walks this big black man. Dad says, “Hi, Eric!” then looked at me and said, “Are you gonna tell him or should I?” So I burst into, “Eric, you are not going to believe what happened last night … ” proceeded to tell the story, then glanced at his arms … guess what? No tattoos! Then Dad, feeling bad but making it worse, said, “I see it now! Eric has very kind eyes!” I said, “Look, I’m sorry we’re racist or whatever, but what’s different about you?” If somebody asked me how to tell my dad apart from me, I’d say I have hair. You can tell Chrissy from me because she has big boobs. His answer, “that dude’s, like, three shades lighter than me!” Are you freaking kidding me? Do I need to explain the Home Owners’ Association paint color debacle?
Yes! I can tell the difference when the two colors are side-by-side… so I ask, “Which of the two of you is better looking?” He says, “Me, I guess…”
I haven’t seen Eric since, but I suspect this new fella is wrong. The thing is, under normal circumstances, I have difficulty memorizing a face. We are all stressed and the nurses change every few days. We have Ardeana, the angel of angels, who got dad un-stuck (a glorious story for another post). The lovely Brenda Lee, who sings, “I’m sorry, so sorry …”, Tosha, a woman of very few word, Mary, the angry old white woman (the rest are, in fact, black, except for Thanh – pronounced tan, Asian, seems nice, her English is a little rough, but still better than Siri’s … she walked in as I’m writing this post, so I’m editing; and how could I forget JK from South Korea? Maybe because he’s a Penn State fan? He just stopped in to check on Dad, even though he’s working on the other wing. Sweet boy!), I’m blanking on the name of the lady with blonde hair who pretends to like football but, like me, just really doesn’t care (but she did a mean victory dance when AB joined the Pats), Eric the Mighty, and now this fella, Kwame, pronounced Kwah-MAY. Are you freaking kidding me?
So racism is (1) assuming general characteristics based on an irrelevant characteristic (e.g. skin color) and (2) being fearful of the “other”. I am guilty of both, I think, because (1) I assumed all big black male nurses are Eric and (2) I am fearful that this new fella will hold a grudge against my dad for our lack of skill at the “Guess Who?” game.
In any case, we clearly have a long way to go in terms of race relations, but I submit that this is everyone’s fight … we all need to remember to (1) be kind and (2) assume the best intentions. Let’s not let Dr. King’s dream die in Bloomfield!