Everyday Words

What Do You Expect?

April 4, 2006

“When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.” Abraham Lincoln

We were running out of time to find parking; the concert was going to start in just five minutes and we’d been circling the city street for nearly twenty minutes looking for any garage that would have space or be open when we’d get out. But there was nothing and we were sure we’d miss the show.

So imagine how we squealed when, right across the theatre, a parking space opened up. I parked the car and my girlfriend went to check the metre. A man came out of the building in front and started talking to her and she got back in the car.

“This is a tow-away zone,” she said, “and he told us we can’t park here. I told him we had to get to the concert and he said he’s a security manager for this building and he’ll let us in the parking garage! We just have to drive around the corner and he’ll open the gate!”

We were so happy with our luck. Free parking, across the street, with moments to spare. Random act of kindness stowed upon us. It was good times.

After the concert we walked back to the building and chatted a bit with the security guy as he walked us down to the garage where he’d let us out. He stood by the gate and we got in our car and before we went out, my friend rolled the window down and thanked him so much for helping us out.

“Well, I did this so that you now know that black men aren’t scary and mean and that you won’t be so afraid of us.” He smiled a huge grin, trying to be kind, thinking what he just said was helpful in some way.

We drove out of there in complete silence. Neither of us knew what to say. His skin colour had never occurred to us nor his reasons. Our reaction to his kindness would have been the same if he was white or a woman – we just thought it was human helping human.

But it made me wonder how much racism is real (a lot of it I know is) and how much is just ingrained in us to believe without cause. He assumed that white girls were afraid of black men. That’s what he carried with him. He expected it. He assumed it. But what if he let go of that? What if he assumed that no one cared and dealt with the few who did? How would life change for him and those he interacts with?

There is a show on Bravo where a white and black family swap places by using incredible make up artists who transform them into the opposite colour. The white teenage girl becomes black and goes into a clothing store that I have gone into frequently as well. As a black girl, she applies for a job and the owner is polite but says they have no applications handy and brushes her off gently. When the girl walks out of the store she says that woman is racist and that when she was white, that never happened.

Like the bible, you can twist anything to be anything.

I’ve gone into that same store and if I’m dressed young and shabby, I’m so, so, so ignored. It’s Montana Ave. It’s an expensive boutique. If I go in dressed nice with clean hair, I get a little attention. I also know that they do not hire teenagers to work there and that when the teenage girl went to apply, she wasn’t appropriately dressed to work there nor would she have been old enough. Could it have been race? Sure although in my shabby dressing days there a nicely dressed black woman got the attention while I got dirty looks. Could it have been ageism? Sure. It could have been just general Santa Monica snootiness? My guess? Yes.

This is along the lines of the post I wrote about women; when you make assumptions that people are going to respond to you a certain way because you are X you are sure to only see those responses. I could make assumptions people react to me because I wear clothing that isn’t hip or trendy so I don’t fit in or that I have a slight accent when I speak, or that I’m blonde, or that I look really young, or that if I laugh I can’t be serious and on and on and on. But I don’t. I go into every situation completely blank, assuming the best of human nature. Sometimes I get thrown on my ass for this because I’m not prepared if I do get some snarky remark or judged harshly but I’d rather look at the world a little Pollyanna than to always assume someone is out to get me, to hate me, or to fear me.

Because how does that ever create progress or help anyone either connect or understand?