I enjoy taking long walks in various neighborhoods. One day, I was walking by a house being stripped. There was renovation of some sort going on. As I looked at it intensely, little did I know I was a 'black-man perhaps scouting where to next do a burgle act.'
'Can I help you?' bellowed a white man.
I remembered we had just come out of the Florida Zimmerman/Martin Trayvon case whose outcomes still divide many, especially in America.
'Can I help you?' continued the man. Now this was louder than first call to attention.
I approached the man, in my humble composed way. In my mind I was seeing him reaching for the gun and ...... Talk of paranoia or fear or whatever psychological term you may want to attribute to my state of mind then.
'Sorry, where you saying something?' I replied as he reached me.
'I asked if I could help you. You were staring at me!' blamed the man.
'I am so sorry. But do you see that silver coating on the house? I did not know the houses are like flasks. The silver keeps the heat out or in.' I said defensively but also reasonably.
This disarmed the white man.
'I am sorry if I appeared rude. You see in this neighborhood, Latinos, blacks and Puerto-ricans are "thieves." Just yesterday that house there was broken into.'
'Oh, you have an accent?' he said as an afterthought.
'I was actually getting to understand the structures of these houses. They are made of wood but appear so solid. I do live in one and find it so solid.' I continued.
'You are not from here. What brings you to this F.....country. USA is a f......up country.' He continued.
'I do not think it is as you put it in your kind of words.' I was being defensive now. Of both country and my being at a wrong place, in a wrong skin and at a wrong time.
I looked into his eyes. Earlier on there was something that struck me as odd about him. Not the tattoos or the physical build. There was something I was trying to place. The eyes again, the disjointed conversation and readiness to blame anything. My bells went off, but I still wanted to remain civil and not judgemental. All humans tend to rely on instincts and apparent perspectives about other humans, nature or experiences. Another bell in me reminded me about who a sloppy professional is: One who reads one book!
Anyway, I do some digging of my own; now that I was known to have an accent and was not from around here.
'What did you mean they are thieves?' I asked like an ignoramus who would be best laughed at than brought into confidence.
'Oh, they do not work, all they do is stay home, wait for their benefit cheques or cards, get home, f...., smoke bhang or do more screwing...... With welfare assured and with nothing to do, all they do is mischief and stealing. You see they are high on drugs.' This from the expert on non-white people in USA.
'May I ask you another very civil question?' I tested the grounds.
'Sure,' he said.
'When you were talking to me with that raised voice, what did you think I was?'
' No, am really sorry.I even did that. Like I told you we Americans are F...up.'
'Any way am glad you did engage in conversation with me. By the way am Thomas.'
'Am George, Iraq Tour 1, 2, & 3 veteran,' he said with pride.
' But am so sorry, that was not the way to behave,' he felt sorry again.
' No do not think I feel wronged in any way. Actually, am learning so many ways about Americans. It is my hope the typical American understands that USA has been the only country where almost the races in the world are living. It is every ones role to exercise understanding and dialogue. Like we are doing. That way we shall know more about each other. For instance you have got to know that am actually not a thief and that am able to discuss science with you. You did not expect that. I have got to know you are an Iraq vet. We are now on talking terms. We have sort of discovered each other.'
I have never felt like a lecturer in my life. But, I realized those of us who are at lower life ranks need to talk about ourselves before those who enjoy privileges much better than ours. In our long conversation,I got to know he was a bi-polar and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disease (PTSD).
We left on a good note. I promised to visit him again when the house was finished to celebrate. He promised to keep in touch and make me the number one guest during 'house-warming.' I did go for the party after a week. It was a good experience for both of us.
Oftentimes in life, humans need to think first before they open their mouths.