I was at the convenience store up the block earlier today. I’m a “loyalty” member there and I’d earned a free coffee – any kind, any size. But, I don’t drink coffee. So, I turned and shouted to everyone in the store, “Hey! Who wants a free coffee?!”
A couple of people looked at me like I’d grown an extra head, as would be expected. I mean, I just shattered the peace of the store with my shout about coffee. But, in general, people in the store smiled. Many said, “No, but thank you for offering.” One woman, after a moment and a glance at others, said, “I’ll take it! I could use some coffee this afternoon.”
So, I swiped my card for her and got a nod and wink from Michelle – one of the women who works at the store – who said, “I got it. She’s taken care of.” Then the woman turned to me again and thanked me. I told her to enjoy the coffee and asked her to pay it forward. She said, “You bet!” I noticed more smiles as I walked out the door.
Please note: I was one of two white people in the store – me and Michelle. The others were Black and Hispanic. There were adults of varying ages and a few children – none younger than about 7-years-old.
Now, this is the southside of Chicago where, rumor has it, there is high tension between/among the races. I’ve had people tell me that I should move out of here because it’s “not safe for whites” anymore.
Guess what? These are my neighbors. Not my Black neighbors. Not my Hispanic neighbors. We are not overridden by gangs. We look out for each other. We chat with each other. We mow each other’s lawns and shovel the snow from each other’s driveways. We hold doors open for each other. We go to the same churches. We shop at the same stores. We say “Please” and “Thank you” and “Excuse me” to each other. These are the people who wave at me and smile. These are the people who came to my grandmother’s and then my mother’s funerals. These are “my people.”
Yes, there is racial tension in the world. Yes, there are areas on the southside of Chicago where it’s dangerous. I’m not that naive. There are areas on the north side, and west side, and east side, and right in the heart of the city that are dangerous, too. I’m sure it’s the same in just about every major metropolitan area in the country.
But here is the thing…it’s the fear-mongering that makes people think where I live is a dangerous, racist community. If they lived here and knew these people like I do, they’d know that I’m in a place where people actually do look out for each other. We respect each other. We show each other kindness.
Do you know what makes neighborhoods dangerous? Well, there are a lot of things. Some are very obvious, some are not. There are too many variables to factor into the equation to give a simple answer here. I mean, if there were a simple answer, we would have solved for “X” a long time ago, right? That means we’d be living in an equally diverse, yet highly more accepting world. We’d be less likely to have such divisive, contentious elections. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have candidates who actually talked about issues and what they could actually do for our world rather than spend time with cries of “you’re being mean” and “but he started it”? There would be discussions about policy and law and growth and community and partnership rather than emails and bankruptcies and infidelities and pussies.
Unfortunately, the equation we are trying to solve has enough variables to make Pythagoras twitch. And to make matters more confusing, it’s not just the mathematicians and scientists trying to figure this one out. Psychologists, Economists, Educators, Social Workers, Law Enforcement, Politicians, and so many others are futzing with the numbers. But they never seem to use the same methods for solving the equation. Leave this variable in. Take this variable out. Multiply by “Racism squared.” No, not squared – it should be cubed! No, no – it’s the economy to the Nth degree! But you have to divide by Pi! No, first we have to divide by fake universities, then the multiply by Benghazi. It can’t be solved because it’s a trick question created by the Chinese. THE LIMIT DOES NOT EXIST!
Jiminy Christmas! It’s equivalent to the word problem from Hell! You know…the one that eats up most of your time during the SAT. The one that hinges on a score in the 400s or a score in the 600s. The one that makes us scowl at our math teacher while thinking “When am I ever going to need this stuff in real life?”
Guess what, Kiddos? Real life is here and we need this stuff. We need to solve the equation.
I wish I had the formula that would solve the problem. Hell, even Stephen Hawking hasn’t quite come up with his one, simple equation. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s out there. Perhaps it is.
Here’s what I do know: we each have the ability, the power, the responsibility to throw out some of those variables. To make them obsolete. To take them out of the equation. To simplify the math.
We’ve got to abolish the “there goes the neighborhood” mentality. NOW! It’s the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. If we treat people who are not just like ourselves differently based solely on the color of their skin or their choice of church or their level of education or their vocation, if we treat them as “less than” or not as worthy, if we treat them as dangerous, if we call them “thugs”…well, that has an impact. Our treatment of other people does not exist in a vacuum. IT HAS AN IMPACT. When we spend a lifetime hearing that we are different or not worthy or less than, eventually, we’ll start to believe it. And then, it will become manifest.
We need to reverse this and make it the best kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
So what can YOU do? What small, seemingly insignificant action can you take today to solve for “X”? What can you do to reduce the variables in the equation? What can you do reverse the self-fulfilling prophecy?
Look, like I said before, I don’t have all of the answers. If I did, do you think I’d be sitting at my computer, eating leftover pizza, and playing Candy Crush Soda Saga? But even if I don’t have the answers, I can contribute to the solution. I can’t do it alone. None of us can. But if we ALL chipped in…. Damn!
It’s amazing what a community can build…with a little respect, a little kindness, and a few smiles along the way. If more people in the world were to really take this idea to heart , imagine what a community we could be. Truly, the limit does not exist!