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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Discussing race. . .with the gloves off!

Things happen at "the Porch" there at the corner of Malcolm X and Dawson.

Last Thursday I was running late, but made it to my normal sitting place about 2:15 p.m., a quarter hour late.

Seated on the steps were two men, one a friend, one a stranger.

Art, my friend, happens to be African American.

The newcomer, Mr. Ortega, Hispanic.

As I took my seat a bit behind the gents, I realized that I had stepped into a lively conversation.

Art, who used to work/volunteer at the Austin Street Shelter, defended himself for his decision last year to "kick Mr. Ortega out" of the facility for a indiscretion in behavior.

The conversation seemed to be heating up just as I sat down.

In just a few moments Mr. Ortega turned his anger my direction.  After overhearing a brief conversation I had with two other men who passed by, picked up a bottle of water and engaged me in a conversation about the possibility of entering some of our permanent housing; Mr. Ortega lashed out at me.

"And, what the ______ are you doing out here?"  he asked indignantly.  "You can't do nothing.  You're giving these guys false hope. Your water don't mean nothing!"

"Well, I need more housing units for sure, but you all deserve much better than living in a shelter," I tried to explain.

"I'm a Mexican, man!" he exclaimed, now shouting at me.  "I don't need none of your ________  _________ help!  I stand on my own feet and I don't need nothing you got!" he dismissed me.

"You might be surprised," I quipped with a smile.

"Yeah, you don't understand, Ortega," Art injected in my defense.

"All you White guys are alike," he played the race card with defiance. "You're afraid of the blacks and you 'kiss up' to them and give them whatever they want."  

At this point Art and I both laughed.

This conversation went on for almost two hours.

We argued.

We reached momentary agreements.

A couple of times we almost arrived at conciliation and mutual appreciation.

When it was time for me to leave, Mr. Ortega called out to me, "Don't be afraid to come back!"

"Oh, I won't be afraid and I'll be back.  We need to keep talking."

As I've thought about this conversation since Thursday, it has become clear to me that three men, one black, one brown and one white engaged in an honest conversation, expressed deep differences of opinion and perspective, but parted amicably with the notion of meeting again.

I'm not sure but we may have stumbled upon a pathway to community reconciliation.  The secret is found in conversation, no matter how hard, rough or challenging.  We'll stay at it.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Racism is a cop-out excuse for failure!

Anonymous said...

I was tempted to respond, but that really deserves no response. If you meant it simply as bait, I won't take it. If you believe it, you are so deluded there's no point in having a "discussion."

Anonymous said...

If you don't believe it "you are over the cliff left"