Saturday, October 20, 2007

Injustice doesn't take a vacation

I love vacation. But not for the same reason people often encourage me to go on vacation. I used to have friends who wanted to take me out or invite me to different events so that I could "get away" from the inner city. I never understood that. I like being around the people I'm around. When I do go away on vacation, I always end up missing something...a bar-b-que, a quincenera, a kid's ballgame...that I would've liked to have been a part of. My reasoning for going away is so that I don't feel the need to meet a deadline and no one can call me for a work-related question, not because I feel the need to "get away from" the people. I still take those phone calls, because the kids, the parents, people I live around, are my friends.

Funny thing...and what the people who try to get me to "go away for a while" don't realize...is that the stuff the frustrates me the most...the mindsets...the covert racism...the problems I want to alleviate...are displayed (and frustrate me) no matter where I go.

As I sat in a quaint little french cafe in Colorado Springs yesterday, the lady behind the counter started up a conversation with a customer. It wasn't a private conversation. Anyone in the cafe could hear them talking:

Cafe worker: “We had a Polish girl who used to work here. Her brother worked at a hotel.”

Customer: “Yeah, we have a lot of Polish people who work at our hotel. Polish people are really nice people.”

Cafe worker: “Yeah, they are. This girl was really nice. I really liked her. I like Polish people.”

Customer: “I used to live in a Polish neighborhood. They are really nice people.”

They continued their conversation about “nice Polish people” for another minute or so. The conversation wasn’t unkind or derogatory in any way. In fact, it was much the opposite. I know they meant well.

But, it made me wonder why we feel the need to make comments about how nice a certain group of people are...as if we assume that they are bad or rude or mean people and then are surprised when they are actually nice.

In spite of the fact that I have a hard time believing a Polish person would have appreciated that conversation and in spite of the fact that the two ladies talking probably didn't initiate the interaction with their Polish co-workers and neighbors, I am glad it happened. Interaction with people often changes our preconceived notions. Problem is, most of us rarely make the effort to interact with people unlike ourselves.

It reminds me of the Polock jokes I heard (and told) as a kid. I never thought of them as hurting anyone. Instead, I thought of Polocks as an imaginary group of people. A group that really didn’t exist. I wonder how I would feel if someone talked about me as if I didn’t exist?

Discrimination, inequity, and injustice is everywhere. There isn't (and shouldn't be) a way to vacation from that battle.
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