I had an interesting moment the other day. There is a black-owned business in my neighborhood. Over the past year, I would safely say that I frequent this place a few times a week. I would never assume that I am friends with the owner, but we are more than cordial. We've talked about his kids, my goals in life, politics. We've exchanged more than a few laughs and we have had moments of agonized connection when discussing the current political moment.
This man has several employees, including at least one from Mexico.
So the owner, his employee, and I were talking about the end of my sabbatical, my return to teaching, and a funny thing that happened with a student. Two other people, a man and a woman, also were in the establishment and could over hear us. As I was turning away the man overhearing us spoke up.
"See these young people are so entitled now. This is one of the reasons I like Trump."
I turned and simply looked at him. I could see the owner and the employee from the corner of my eye. I felt the air thicken in the room.
"Yeah," said the woman. "I love what he says and I love that it pisses people off."
The two of them then started to talk loudly about Trump. The cited what they called his disdain for "political correctness" and his lack of concern for others opinions. They liked how he said what needed to be said. They had the almost drunken belligerence of someone taking up too much room at a party-a party they had managed to crash.
These two people, both white, felt very comfortable coming into a black-owned business, one with a multi-ethnic staff and clients, and professing their pleasure with the statements and conduct of a man who professes some of the most vile and hateful rhetoric in American life. They filled the place with their thick and stupid laughter. They looked at us, the owner, the employee, and myself, as if we too dumb to get the joke.
When people talk about the indignities of every day racism, this is what they mean. What kind of person walks into someone's place of business and insults them to their face? The kind that knows that there will be no consequences.
The owner said, "this is a politics free zone." And the two white people had a final laugh. The man said, "I just knew I'd get a rise out of you." The woman turned to the Mexican employee, who resumed working with her.
I looked at the owner. I thought about his kids. I thought about how he told me how hard he worked to build his business and what it meant to him and his wife. I thought about how he had clients who felt completely entitled to come into his work place and insult him and his employees just because they thought it would be fun. I thought about his employee who now had to work with a woman who told a group of people that she believes Trump when he says that Mexicans are criminals, drug dealers, and rapists. I remembered with a mouth full of hot blood that I was in someone's hard earned business, and in an immigrant's place of employment.
I said to white man, "I want to continue liking you, so I'm going to forget this happened." He laughed and I smiled the "go fuck yourself smile" I learned from my mother.
Later, I went over to the owner.
"I'm so sorry that happened."
"What the actual fuck?"
"I know, I know. And there's a man from Mexico right in front of them, too."
"I was about to tell them both about themselves. I was about to say something and then I saw your face. I don't want to go off on these white people and fuck up your money, man."
"I appreciate that. This is my livelihood. And the fact is, today isn't even the worst of it. You'd be amazed."
I shook his hand. And left.
A few days later, the woman was there and the Mexican employee was working with her. He was kind and encouraging, present and supportive. As I passed them, she said hello to me. I stopped and looked at her. In my mind's eye, I could see her face, drunk and stupid with laughter.
I said nothing.