Tuesday, April 04, 2006
There comes a pivotal time in every relationship when one must take inventory. When a man has befriended you in a way that clearly shows no self interest, he gains implicit trust. Such is the case with Robert D. That’s why these words are so difficult to pen.
Four men from The House comfortably seated in a sedan on their way to an A.A. meeting, jovial atmosphere replacing the all-to-common tobacco odor. We were doing the right thing as men and it felt good. Then what upshot occurs t’was a racial slur of the black flavor, not uncommon from a house filled with men, half of which are African American. By this time, these comments only slightly peeked my defenses; one must be alert for any fight that might break out. This was not the case, since the slur was too playful.
Then another chimes in, and yet another. Not paying close enough attention, distracted by some young thing walk the streets, my mind only works the math: one, two, three, that leaves me; to do what? By this time, the black man in the car should’ve defended himself verbally. Eyes up, where’s the token black dude? It wasn’t until then that I had realized that I was in a car filled with only white men. So was it my time chime in?
Senses acute now, I relieve my distractions from the slut on the street and pay attention to what is going on inside the car. Take inventory of the men you’re surrounded by: Are they known racists? Two of them are. But that last joke was anything but humorous. It was downright antagonistic. Who was it from? I turn my head to lock retinas with the third and last speaker who, grinning like an ignorant redneck, is clearly waiting for my response. It’s Robert. I respond with nervous laughter.
Mistaking that for acceptance, he voiles off another racial slur. One man responds, “He called me a racist. I said, ‘You’re the only racist in the room.’” I know the black man he’s referring to, and he’s right: he is a racist. What is clearly going on here is white men venting, an all too common phenomenon not unexpected in our close cramped environment. The racial social experiment The House advocates engineered to inflict upon the overcrowded residents for our own good has built up to somewhat of an unhealthy venting release.
But the racial jokes start coming out like rapid fire from the man sitting to my left, far too many for me to keep up with. He’s said more black jokes in five minutes than I know and I’ve failed to find the humor. Okay, so Robert’s a redneck; big deal. Just put it aside and deal with it when we’re alone. But my mind can’t let it go, so it works the problem subconsciously. Why would a good man like Robert choose to harbor such resentment towards blacks?
Some time passes and the answer comes. Robert so happens to be standing next to me later that evening enjoying a smoke outside in the privacy of cubic yards of thin cold air. I drop my stare, put on my most sincere understanding face, and ask, “Your sister was raped by a black man, wasn’t she?”
“Yes she was,” Robert intensely replies.
“I understand.” I take a deep breath, squint my eyes, and decide to leave it hanging in the bitterly cold night air. I let a moment pass and change subjects. How does that justify your vengeful attitude towards an entire race? You’d think that by murdering her violator, serving in the military in lue of prison time, and expressing his guilt in closed meetings would relieve him of the anger that is clearly tearing at his moral fiber, but it has not. Because of the racial mix of such meetings, the minor fact of the race of her attacker remained concealed. Some internal pain is necessary to motivate a man. But this is not a healthy inspiration. It does no good; not for him, his violated sister, and especially not for the uninvolved black men in the world. This unjust induction is evil.
I begin to question our friendship. I once had a friend that was a racist. He was my best friend growing up, Edward N., who was married to a temperate, if not dedicated, woman Gretchen N. who taught him the error of his ways. But at his peak, I’d never met a more racist individual. Edward and I are still best friends to this day. I searched my heart for enough compassion to harbor another racist in my life but found a void. There comes a time in a man’s life that he must take his stand against what he believes in, and as far as racism is concerned, I can no longer tolerate its existence. I believe I’m the closest I’ll ever be to understanding the moment Martin Luther King, Jr. had the first inspirational thought that gave birth to his “I have a dream” speech.
I am a pluralist. I no longer consider Robert D. my friend. I’ll send up a useful prayer for his soul.