I dropped my wife off at work early this morning and stopped at McDonalds on MLK in Lansing, Michigan. Being a senior citizen in training, I can get coffee pretty cheap.
I got the coffee and a USA Today and sat down in a booth. I buzzed through a story about declining Medicaid costs in the states when this young black guy wearing a rag sat down next to me in my booth.
To provide some context, Lansing is not the deep south where racial attitudes have an edge, but here in Michigan's Capital City there is a wall between the races that nobody seems to want to cross. It's like the Green Zone in Baghdad. People move in an out of each other's space, but they don't have more than perfunctory talk. They don't get too friendly.
My self-invited seatmate could see my surprise by his unannounced visit. I had to make a quick decision about how to react.
From what I could see, nobody was with him. He kept his hands out of his pocket and his breath smelled from possibly alcohol. He was incredibly soft-spoken and hearing him was made difficult by a recent ringing in my left ear.
He introduced himself with his first name and I gave him mine. He said he wasn't hitting me up for money. He just wanted to talk to somebody.
So, I listened. He has four kids, one being a daughter who was recently born. He can't find a job and he says he has applications in a variety of places. He had been in jail a couple of times for minor stuff and he was hungry. And, all this time, he was nodding off saying that he was really tired.
I only had 70 cents in my pocket, but I gave it to him. I wish I had more.
Race relations in this mid-Michigan city are so up tight that it's unfortunate that we couldn't have talked more comfortably. Contemporary reality is that armed robberies are alive and well. And, I felt intimidated when this guy sat down without asking and, of course, he fit the perceived profile of many who hold people up.
Yeah, I would like to see this racial wall torn down. But, how do you do it. Nobody seems to care. Not the politicians. Not the clergy or their churches. Then, why should I care? But, I do because I know it's the right thing.
I told him I had to go and I got up and started to leave. I told him to not give up. He says he prays at night. I said don't stop praying. Do it all day long. That's what I do.
As an older white guy, could I have done anything different?
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