One Friday night I invited Lench and his roommates to my crib for a few blunts over a couple of games of Spades. We were quite a diverse group for the lily-white college town of Corvallis, Oregon in 1992; the only place around where "Ain't nuthin' but a g thang" paired with hackey sack. My lil' Spadesfest was all good until I introduced Rhonda - an African-American friend-of-a-friend - to Chris Lench.
"Hey Rhonda, this is Lench. Lench, Rhonda."
Rhonda turned ice cold, shooting death-laden laser beams from her eyes at my delicate homeboy and said, "Nice name. Lynch."
Oops. Big oops. Rhonda did a perfect pivot turn beyond his extended hand. Chris called after her, "Oh sorry. It doesn't mean anything." Chris was "Chris" from that moment on.
Our Caucasian circle thought nothing of the decades of terrorism my people wrought on her ancestors symbolized in the word "lynch." I never made the connection between a noose and my friend's nickname. Still an open wound for Rhonda, my ignorant friends and I had just smothered it with lemon juice and hot sauce and then spit in her eye. Chris and I felt lame. And stupid. And super super White.
As an Anglo woman, there can sometimes be a certain level of discomfort hanging out, or talking to, folks outside my race. What if they make fun of me? What if I say something stupid? What if they notice I'm white? What if I call my friend some racial slur I am not aware of?
I have to get over it.
Guess what? We all make race assumptions. Love does see color.
I am White. The secret is out. I am ignorant of many many things - one of them being what it is like to have a family member, or be a member of a racial group, that was hung from a tree by a rope by man folks that looked like Chris http://www.chesnuttarchive.org/classroom/lynchingstat.html .
A stark difference is that most of the time, Whites don't have to hang out with Black folks or Latino folks if we don't want to. We certainly aren't forced on the daily to seek employment, or a bank loan or a court judgement by folks outside our race.
But don't worry White people. Our country gets more diverse every day. All people will have more opportunities to rub elbows as we evolve.
It is an expression of my social advantage to only have to worry about putting my foot in my mouth, or saying something offensive, when I choose to. I hardly ever have this disadvantage in a job interview.
Caucasian people must be willing to make social mistakes or we will never figure out what we are doing wrong. Building a bridge between varied races and cultures could help us redefine America while keeping all the awesome stuff like county fairs. I had to challenge my racial intellect to move forward.
Thank you, Black and Brown people who still extend a hand to White Folks. Thank you, Rhonda, for not slapping Chris upside the head, and for continuing to hang out with me. I know my ignorant choice of words put even more pressure on your budded Spades experience. This privileged White girl did not try to use your patience to pave my ethnic educational experience yet I became a bit more racially aware because of it.
I am still going to invite my friends of all races and creeds over for card tournaments. Someday I will probably again demonstrate my ignorance of other folks' culture.
I hope you will still be this dorky white girl's friend.