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  • January 2011
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Talking Politics and Black Issues at IHOP

An IHOP restaurant in Poughkeepsie, New York

I was in Alexandria, VA, yesterday and I went to IHOP for brunch by myself. As I sat waiting in the foyer beside a black woman named Ti we struck up a conversation and invited each other to sit together when one of us got a seat.

IHOP was such a random choice, but it was the closest, least expensive in my daughter’s neighborhood and, coinciding with Dr. MLK Jr. holiday,  the place was packed. Ti and I began shyly at first, I prayed that I could talk with her about being black on this day of all days. Then we made our pact, “I’ll invite you to sit with me if you get seated first and vice versa!”

She was a regular, but I got seated first, she had her special Ethiopian waitresses that immediately hovered over us pouring extra strong coffee, her specialty “mine too!” We were set for a good visit!

I began, as I have found it necessary in conversations with African Americans, “So, I like Obama, tell me how you think he’s done so far.”

Ti: “Let me begin by saying, I vote Democrat, but I think like a Republican.”

Me: “Hm, what do you mean?”

Ti: “Well, Democrats are always fighting between themselves and not accomplishing anything. Republicans swoop in and get things done while we’re still fighting.”

“Obama is a passionate man, a thoughtful man, but before Tucson, we lost sight of that man, we saw him again in Tucson.”

We talked a bit about Health Care and about our views, and then I turned the conversation to Race.

She told me that she has worked for the Federal Government for over 30 years and faces racism every day from her supervisors. Her way of dealing with it is head on. She’s not to blame for the color of her skin, but she sure isn’t going to take any abuse because of it. She always stands up for herself when she feels people looking down on her or her family for their race

She gave me an example of taking her grandson to the store and giving him money to buy something. She would watch as he went to the cashier, to see how he was treated. “When, not if”, he was disrespected, she would go up to the cashier and demand an apology or she would report them to their manager and expect they would be fired.

“That’s the way it is”, she told me sadly.

I told her my background story, with evidence that my father was most likely KKK, and how I wanted to see a Black man elected president in my lifetime to undo some of my father’s family’s’ legacy. I apologized.

“It’s not your fault”, she said. But I never tire of offering my olive branch. It’s the least I can do, but I can do more.

Like strike up a conversation on MLK Jr. holiday and other days and talk frankly about Black Issues, Black and White, talking about race together.  I try to go a little deeper with any person of color in my path who has the time: taxi cab and bus drivers, anyone I have a chance to talk with for more than five minutes. I rarely hesitate, and I’ve rarely been rebuffed.

Each Black person I’ve been privileged to converse with over the years has had their own unique story. What is similar, they’ve all agreed  that they want White people to bring up race!! They aren’t going to, but they want us to do it.

I would add, if we can do it without being defensive.

I always start with saying something good about Obama and asking their opinion. I guess it would be more difficult if you genuinely don’t like Obama. Please don’t begin a conversation if you intend to argue about him.

I consider Racism a sin so vile in our country’s history, I’ve made great efforts to surmount my political barriers so I can talk about race with a pure conscience. What do you think about it?

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