I had an experience tonight that pointed out why it’s important to have friends in other race, age and economic groups to interact with. There is a story within a story, so be patient.
Some background here. I work midnight shift in a doughnut/coffee shop. A homeless guy came in at the beginning of my shift to get out of the rain/get warm. I had no problem with that. I did have a problem when he started bugging customers to buy him stuff. A young girl bought him a sandwich, an order of hash browns and a hot chocolate. A guy bought him a doughnut. I told the manager about it. The guy left, then came back in again. The manager gave him some doughnuts, and told him to leave.
Ok, my shift ends at 6am (supposedly). At 5:45, a cop comes in. He wants 2 doughnuts, but he said his card was already declined elsewhere, because someone got into his account. He tried it, but it was declined. At that point, I had a few dollars in my pocket from tips. I paid for his doughnuts. He didn’t expect it, or ask for it.
When I got home, I posted about the cop on Whisper. A nearby college student messaged me. She told me she was broke, and hungry. I told her to ask on Whisper. She asked me for food. I knew I was going to lunch with my husband to a local sub shop. I told her that if she could get there, I’d buy her a sub. She tells me that she’s a vegetarian. Oh, well.
She wanted me to go shopping for vegetarian food, pack it up, and send it to her. I offered her food, and she turned it down. I don’t have the money to be sending care packages. I just left the conversation then. I offered to help, but I’m not catering to someone I don’t know.
Okay… here’s the other part of the story. I was telling that story to J. I thought it was something different to talk about. I am a middle aged, middle class, white woman. J is 31, black, and is from the “hood” (his word, not mine) We don’t see things from the same point of view.
So, instead of thinking the college girl story was odd, he asked me why I bought a cop doughnuts. I said because his card was declined, and I wanted to be nice. Without knowing about the homeless guy, he asked me if I would have bought a homeless person something. I said, Maybe, but I don’t usually have cash in my pocket there.
He became fixated on me paying for a cop’s doughnuts, rather than the story I was telling about the picky college girl asking for food. Cops are people too. Most of them are good people, and some are assholes. I just wanted to do something nice for a person.
Because J is younger, and black, he sees cops as a threat. I can understand that, because of all the publicized events that have happened in recent history. I do not have any personal knowledge of it. He has told me before that he has had a talk with his teen aged nephew about what to do if he gets pulled over. I find it incredibly sad that such a thing is a necessity, but I know it is.
With my background, and experience, cops have been good people. They do hard work, in bad conditions, for not much money. With his background, he has learned that they aren’t always good, and are frequently the opposite. That because of his skin color, he is seen as a threat, and a target to law enforcement.
My whiteness protects me from some of the harsher realities of life. My middle to lower class lifestyle doesn’t draw attention to me. I don’t know what it’s like to live with a target on me. He has experienced the opposite.
In my mind, when I was telling him about the girl, I thought that was the interesting part of the story. I only mentioned the cop/doughnuts as background to why she was asking me for food. But he latched on to the cop in the story.
He told me that sometimes things like that is where our different backgrounds conflict. He’s right. In his mind, I was probably enabling a racist government agency. In my mind, I was being nice to a guy having a bad night, who just happened to work for the police.
So, I tell a story. He sees something in the story that was background information to me. He saw me buying the doughnuts for a police officer as stranger than some girl begging me for food, then turning it down because she’s a vegetarian.
We all see things from our own perspective. I was in a car accident once. I was t-boned from the passenger side. I saw the windshield glass dropping piece by piece, it looked like raindrops falling from tree branches after a storm has passed. I heard the Amy Grant song playing on the cassette player, even though the dash looked like an accordion. I smelled the overwhelming smell of Calvin Klein’s Obsession. That was my experience. Other people just saw a horrible accident.
I can’t know what he is thinking about things, unless he tells me. We have had several fights because our perceptions of things don’t match. He sees things differently than I do. He doesn’t have my age, and experience.
He helps shake me up at times. I need to see things from his point of view. And he needs to see mine. Yes, I have feelings for him. But I think one of the reasons I get upset if I think that he’s gone, is because I would be losing the one friend who opens my eyes to things. He shows me that there can be other ways to see things.
I’ve had friends in England and Wales who point out differences. I thought that saltine crackers were universal. I was surprised to learn that they aren’t. I didn’t know. I try to learn, but I will still see things from my own experiences. It’s just how we are.