Given the current political climate, I find myself being super vigilant and overly aware of the looks and reactions my daughter gets as we enter a room. Last night we went out to Murfreesboro to meet my sister’s precious new baby at the hospital, and we decided to stop at a restaurant for dinner before heading home. As we were being seated, I noticed a white couple who appeared to be in their mid fifties staring at my daughter. This happens. After a year home, we have mostly adjusted to being a ‘conspicuous’ family. Usually I just smile when people gawk at my two blond haired, fair skinned sons and my brown haired, dark chocolate skinned daughter. Sometimes I’ll shrug my shoulders and say, “We really love contrast in our family!”
But this was different. This wasn’t the curious or interested kind of attention. This was the immediate eye rolling, obvious pointing, and ill concealed racism kind of attention. I stared the couple down as the man continued to shake his head and point emphatically back and forth at our table and the table of Middle Eastern women in hijabs seated next to us. I’m no great lip reader, but a few of his words were pretty easy to make out, and they were words that no lips should ever utter. Finally, after a few more minutes of blatant gesturing and staring, the woman realized that I was staring right back. I gave her a pretty obvious, ‘Do we have a problem here?!’ face, at which point she had the decency to look embarrassed, smile awkwardly, and touch her husband’s arm in an effort to alert him to the fact that his offensive behavior had not gone unnoticed.
I was seething. My daughter, who still believes that everyone she meets should want to be her best friend, was happily coloring her menu, oblivious to the negative attention she was receiving. The women seated behind me were not only engrossed in their own conversation, but have likely been forced to deal with much more overt displays of prejudice and discrimination than my white privileged perspective can ever possibly comprehend.
Chris had noticed the couple when we first walked in, but now he was seated with his back toward them. He has mentioned on multiple occasions that one of these days my mouth is going to get us into an all out bar brawl, and at this point he was observing me carefully to see if this might be the actual day. But just as I was formulating the scathing remarks I was going to fire off at these strangers whom I had now deemed to be ignorant bigots, a little, blond haired girl around Promise’s age wandered up to our table. She stood right next to Promise and showed her a shiny sticker she had just found. Having now bonded over their mutual love of sparkly things and the color purple, the two girls immediately cut through all the grown-up subtext and bullshit and launched into an excited conversation about how our family has four yellow people and one brown one in it, and her family has two yellow people in it. Then Promise invited her over to our house for chapati, because obviously that’s the polite thing to do when you meet a stranger in another city. The little girl stayed close until it was time for her to leave, and she told us all about how she was on a girls’ night out with her aunt and her grandmother. Apparently she had also already met the ladies, “with the pretty scarves on their heads who are from a different country,” seated behind us. As they were leaving, her aunt smiled apologetically at us and explained that as soon as we walked in, her niece had exclaimed, “They look like nice people! I need to go meet them!”
I almost missed it. I had my eyes and my heart focused so firmly on the hate and the judgement, that I could have missed the love and the acceptance. Curiosity is good and beautiful. It can lead to enlightenment, and better yet, relationship. It becomes a great deal more difficult to discriminate against those who are different from us once a relationship has been formed.
So here is what I am choosing to believe:
That curious, open-hearted little girl: she is the future. The couple sitting and judging from a distance: they are relics of the past. The struggle may go on for a time, but I believe to the very core of my being that love will win in the end. As a follower of Christ, I have been promised that. The price has been paid, and the end of the story has been written. Good triumphs over evil. Love is more powerful than hate. And no matter how dark things may get, there are hints and glimpses of that truth all around us if we are willing to look carefully.