I will never be accused of being politically correct. I don’t aspire to stay in the witness box of the court of unpopular opinion…but I am not afraid to testify if called to the stand. Of course, this is only my truth. You have your own. We are free.
Imagine the cheek of our forefathers to put…in writing…in our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence…a guarantee that in the United States of America “all men are created equal”. That we as a people have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. They thumbed their noses at the Monarchy which held them prisoner and said, “You’re not the boss of me.”
In drafting our freedom, turns out our forefathers were a little nearsighted as they left out our foremothers and the negroes and the native americans. Before you get your tail in a knot…I’m not comparing the fight for equality for women and the right to vote to that of the fight for freedom for the slaves. The original Constitution doesn’t say that women can’t vote…another vote was held to “readdress” that slip of the pen and the vote was taken away. Whoops…the chicks got smart, banded together and in 1920 forced the hand of the powers to be and the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing our right to vote was ratified as a permanent part of our Constitution. By getting the vote, women finally began to be recognized for their contributions and were given a voice to protect their rights as well. It is still a journey. Though we’re not always welcome, we’ve continued to elbow our way up to the front of the line to stand shoulder to shoulder with our male counterparts…and sometimes not in a flattering or justifiable way. I calls ’em like I sees ’em.
Native Americans were a conundrum for our forefathers. They were unpredictable and because of that, we held them at an arm’s length, not sure of their agenda, though ours was clear. Better to deal with them only on an “as need” basis…the red elephant in the room.
But the negroes were different from the get-go. They had no rights because they were not considered people…they were property…they had a monetary value. The water always turns muddy when you mix money with morality.
There is no defense for injustice and stupidity. When human beings are backed into a corner and they are confronted with their shortcomings they sometimes retaliate blindly with hatred and ignorance as their weapons of choice.
And sometimes they kill the messenger.
Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 83 years old yesterday. He died a young warrior with an old soul, dauntless in his battle to bring us together as a nation, as a people, as a world. He could see further on down the road past the roadblock of race that kept us apart. He called us to account for what separated us. He understood how simple it all is…we are born…we die. It’s what we do with the part in between that defines us and we are all interconnected whether we want to be or not.
Equality is manmade…we are the only animals that seek it. It’s a starting point from which understanding and tolerance and acceptance and freedom can grow for all of us.
It should be the ground zero of all human life.
I am…and so are you.
If we treat each other like we would like to be treated then the line between right and wrong is no longer blurred. Sometimes we create prejudice by trying too hard to prevent it. We overcompensate and short-circuit the intention.
Prejudice is nothing new and if you deny ever tasting it or feeding it, then you are not being honest to yourself. That’s your burden. Words are flesh wounds that can fester and kill slowly…if you let them. People who fling hatred are anchored in their own shallow water…if you hold onto their anchor then you will go down with their ship. That water is shark infested and you will constantly be swimming for your life. Better to swim further out into deeper water where there is room for everyone.
Using race or gender or religion or sexuality as an excuse for laziness and indifference is transparent and your agenda is clear. That is not my reality and I won’t entertain it. Instead, I use the variety in my life as a spice.
Here is a peek into my spice cabinet…
I have three close girlfriends who happen to be black. I didn’t seek them out because of their color. Life brought them to me and I am a richer person for it. I hope they feel the same way about me.
When I first came to Tennessee from New York, I was assigned to a gynecologist by my health insurance company. I went in to see her, armed with a folder full of personal diagnoses that I made after I got my medical degree on WebMD. She sat quietly listening to my…opinions…nodding, she took the folder reverently from me…turned…and threw it in the trash without even opening it. From that moment…it was on.
Dr. C is loud and brash and opinionated and overbearing and irritating. She is also loving and giving and understanding and patient and very good at what she does…and I am pretty certain she has saved my life on more than one occasion, though she doesn’t go into details with me as she knows I go immediately from one to ten with no numbers in between. Sometimes knowledge has to be spoon fed so it can be digested properly.
I have complete trust in her…she knows what all my private parts look like and has also been exposed to what goes on inside my head and heart and still wants to be my friend. She knows me inside out.
I sat in her outer office once waiting to go inside for a checkup. An elderly white woman was wheeled in. They had brought her over from the nursing home to be looked at. As they brought her into the office she saw that Dr. C was black and she turned to her aide and said, “I don’t want no black touching me.”
Wow. It was a good thing that the door closed, because I have been known to lead with my mouth and the lady was old and ignorant. I won’t say she didn’t know any better. That is ridiculous. I will choose to say instead that she lived a small life surrounded by suspicion and bitterness.
When it was my turn to go in, I asked Dr. C how she handled it…she laughed and said, “Once your feet are in the stirrups…you’re on my ride and I’m at the controls.”
We travel a lot together…we’re leaving shortly on a cruise. She will want to throw me overboard a million times and I will want to do the same to her…but I don’t even need to look to see her hand outstretched to help me back up…and she doesn’t have to look to see mine. We both know it’s there and that is good enough.
Shortly after my divorce I started working for some friends who have a catering business. We are truly the large part of a small world and I will write more about that later. It is there that I met my friend Deborah. She is one of the chefs.
To be honest, I was a little leery of her when we first came in contact with each other. She is really tall and has one of those stares that can saw you in half. She can kill with her eyes. She is no nonsense and understands her place…and if you are crazy enough to try and put her there…good luck…hope you can run fast.
She hasn’t said as much, but I don’t think she has had an easy life. She is guarded. And I am fairly certain that has come to her honestly. Someone told me she didn’t really like white people. They sold her short. She doesn’t like stupid people. All colors have equal opportunity to demonstrate their behavior in her world. If you fall short she will let you know it.
And she will be the first to help you up when you trip. If you are her friend…it is for good.
I went to a picnic at her house in the summer. When I got there, I was the only white person…like Steve Martin in “The Jerk”. I know a lot of the older black folks were wondering who the heck I was. They are still suspect of white people. That wound is still fresh and their flinch is from experience and instinct. I get that and I don’t try to change their minds. They come around because I am interested in them. And that in turn, makes them interested in me.
When black folks make fun of each other, it is hilarious and no different then when you are sitting with a bunch of Italians or Jews or Irish. The language of life is universal and in that we are all the same.
I like to say that from hanging with these girls, I’ve gotten what I call “blattitude”. Deborah has threatened more than once to take it away from me if I dance in public. I think she’s serious.
And lastly I will share an experience I had with my friend Demetra. I call this episode: Man With Gun.
I met Demetra while catering. She also happens to be friends with Dr. C…it truly is a small world.
She is quiet and not easy to read. Right off I could see that she got my sense of humor…which is an acquired taste…and that endeared her to me…much to her chagrin.
If you ever saw “The New Adventures of Old Christine” then you would understand our friendship. In the show, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Wanda Sykes have a working and personal relationship that is the epitome of political incorrectness and it is really funny and totally works.
Demetra and I are like that. We sealed our bond by making fun of each other. And most of it took place on a five mile trail in the middle of the woods.
I decided to make it my mission to get her in shape. Contrary to the stereotype, not all blacks are athletes…yeah, I said it.
I know a little part of her wanted to get in shape…but the bigger part of her…and I’m not talking her backside…just really liked hanging out with me.
Aside from her, I have yet to see another black person on this particular trail. I wonder…out loud of course…what people think about the two of us out there together in the woods. We argue…we sing…we dance…well…I call it dancing…we laugh and we’ve cried a few times.
We aren’t out there to solve the problems of the world, though she reminds me that I think that I can…she’s just jealous…
We have fun. She had to have knee surgery and I am sure she blamed the whole injury on me. I told her it was just an excuse to get out of the trail workouts. Wait until the warm weather…I have plans.
Anyway…one morning we were out on the trail. It was early. We passed one of the benches that I WON’T let her sit down on for a break…eventually she stopped asking. There was a large muddy sneaker print on it. Hmmm.
We rounded a corner and I saw a guy ahead of us in a sweatsuit with a knitted hat pulled down over his head. It seemed to me that he slowed down a little, though he never turned around to look at us. I pride myself on my distance vision…I have so few things left that still work properly…and I saw that he had a holster on his hip.
The trail is in a state park…no hunting…no guns. I didn’t want him to hear me…sound carries funny in the woods. I turned back to Demetra and out of the side of my mouth muttered…”Man with gun.”
“What man with gun are you talking about?” She’s loud…I didn’t say she was subtle.
I kept nodding my head toward the guy. I think he slowed down almost to a stop.
She was standing with her hands on her hips and she had a disbelieving attitude.
“Don’t give me an attitude…he has a holster with a handgun on his hip.” I had come to a complete stop. She peered at the guy.
“That isn’t a gun…I think it’s a fannypack.”
“A fannypack…really…with his sweatsuit and his knit hat pulled down over his head. We’re turning back…you’ll thank me when we make it out alive.”
The whole way back she wouldn’t let it go. When we passed the bench again with the footprint, I stopped.
“Aha…evidence…he jumped over this bench so he could run ahead of us.” This time I was the one with my hands on my hips.
She just stared at me. “You are not right.”
There are a lot of limestone sinkholes on that trail. Instead of tossing her into one, I played Devil’s advocate.
“Okay smartass…I am just telling you this…if he decides to shoot us and toss us into a sinkhole I’m asking him to do you first so your black ass can break my fall.” I’m Italian…my hands were flying.
“Let him try to pick up my black ass.” She had her hands, once again, on her very opinionated hips.
We were standing having this argument about who was going to get thrown down the sinkhole first after getting shot…just as a lovely couple with their small children passed us on the trail.
There may have been some discussion about our behavior after they hurried by…possibly some therapy later on…maybe even a police report…
“Uh oh…maybe I should have warned them about the man with gun.” I was about to go after them when she stopped me.
“No.” She continued walking out without me and of course I had to follow her to retrace our steps…and assess the possible crime…out loud.
When we got to the parking lot, my daughter’s car was there. She and I run the trail sometimes. We didn’t pass her, so she must have run in from the other way. My heart stopped.
“She’ll pass the man with the gun. We have to go back in.” And this is where you separate your friends from your acquaintances…
She didn’t laugh, or scoff or tell me I was crazy. She turned with me and started back into the woods to help me find my child.
My daughter finally ran up to us. I was relieved. Oddly enough, she never passed the man with the gun, though if he had stayed on the trail he would have had to go right by her.
When we go into the trail now, we laugh about it, though I still insist that he was wearing a holster. I let her tease me and then I point out the sinkhole I will toss her black self into. Of course, it’s understood that I wouldn’t leave her there…and she wouldn’t leave me either.
How many Pollacks, Wops, Micks, or Jews does it take to put in a lightbulb? When I was a kid, there was nothing funnier than a joke at our own expense….they were all interchangeable…because when you get right down to it , we are all the same. We forget to laugh at ourselves because sometimes it’s hard to be the joke…but laughing is what keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously.
To those who would say to me, “It isn’t that simple.” I would have to say to you…”Yes it is…if you want it to be.”
How many men, women, races and religions, sexual preferences, heights, weights or ages does it take to make the world go around?
ALL OF US…
And if that wasn’t your answer…then in the words of my friend Deborah:
You don’t know cat ass scratch.
And I hope Martin Luther King Jr. is watching out for us…
We need his dream to become a reality now…more than ever before.
Day Three Hundred and Forty One…peace.