LISA AND I seldom interrupt our morning walk to "pig out," but on this particular day I feel more like eating than exercising. So when Lisa calls, I suggest we get some fried okra and collard greens at one of her favorite places to eat, a soul-food restaurant in the inner city.
As we stand at the door of this crowded little restaurant, waiting for a table, it's hard for me to believe I have a white friend who's comfortable in an all-black setting. We're both keenly aware Lisa's is the only white face in a crowd of African Americans. When we finally get a table, our waitress has a rotten attitude. She smiles as she waits on other tables, but whenever she approaches our table, her cheerful disposition turns cold. Poor service accompanies her negative attitude. We repeatedly ask for glasses of water. We never receive butter for our cornbread. With each request, our African-American waitress becomes increasingly irritated.
"This is reverse discrimination," I say to Lisa. "We African Americans know how it feels to be treated like this. Why would we treat others the same way?"
ALTHOUGH I ASK THE QUESTION, I understand the answer too well. I, too, could easily play the "let's hurt white people like they've hurt us" game. When I was in kindergarten, a little freckled-faced white girl named Penny called me a "nigger." Penny's remark proved to be only the first of many derogatory names and behaviors I've endured from members of the white race.1