Although numerous people aim to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a colorblind society a reality, antagonists ensure that the struggle for equality continues. And every day, accidental encounters between perfect strangers from different racial groups either leads them to ignore apprehension and prejudgments or it reinforces stereotypes.
Several weeks ago my son, a former Gulf War trooper, was seated at a table in a Panera Bread café. He was wearing his baseball style black cap with the words “Desert Storm Veteran” embroidered in gold, raised lettering on the front panel. Although his attention was focused on his laptop screen, he was mindful as he always is, of what was going on around him.
From the corner of his eye, he saw an elderly white couple strolling in his direction. The petite woman, dwarfed by her platinum colored beehive hairdo, was walking, hand-in-hand alongside a frail man. He was slightly taller than she and his shoulders were stooped by time. On his head, he wore a World War II Vet cap.
As soon as the strangers approached his table and stood by his side, my son immediately turned around to face them. Like most black people, he is well aware of the problematic political climate in this society, but he is not presumptuous. And beneath his outwardly calm demeanor, he sometimes entertains a wry sense of humor. I imagine that he was thinking, “What’s the problem now, sitting while black?”
When the two men made eye contact, the WWII soldier extended his open hand toward my son and said, “Thank you for your service.”
He had noticed my son’s cap and saw a comrade-in-arms. He told my son that he is 92 years old. My son is slightly more than half his age. The two vets clasped hands in a firm shake, and reciprocally, my son thanked the senior vet for his service.
While the two men enjoyed a brief but engaging conversation, the older man’s wife stood patiently by his side. The men chatted about their respective wars, how things have changed for veterans since the Second World War and even touched upon other service-related matters including benefits that are now available to eligible veterans that were non-existent when the WW II soldier was discharged. Although their conversation lasted only about 15 minutes, my son later told me that it was a strange, but pleasant encounter.
Overall, black people (particularly black men) have become so accustomed to being in the crosshairs of negativity until a positive experience sometimes catches them off guard. A white stranger approaching – God forbid it is a police officer – will cause some to brace for a verbal or physical attack. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is when you are black in America. And that’s why a pleasant occurrence like the one described above is worth sharing.
But then there is the other side of the story.
The dialog below was posted on Facebook allegedly by the black man who experienced it (not my son). Some of you may have seen it. It describes an incident that allegedly happened when a black man who was preparing to catch a flight stepped in the boarding line for first-class ticket holders. The white woman who came up behind him immediately assumed that the man was in the wrong line. Here is their exchange:
Her: Excuse me I believe you may be in the wrong place. You need to let us through. This line is for priority boarding
Him: Priority meaning first-class correct?
Her: Yes. Now excuse me. They will call y’all after we board.
Him: [Putting his first-class priority boarding pass in her face.] You can relax ma’am I’m in the right spot, been here longer, so you can board after me.
Her: [Still not letting it go and talking aloud to no one in particular.] He must be military or something, but we paid for our seats so he still should have to wait.
Him: Nope. Not military. I’m just a n***a with money.
Word is that some people waiting in line applauded him.
Of course, I wasn’t there, and I can’t vouch for the validity of this story, but I believe that it could have happened. You think not? Read the book.