A while back my wife came home from a visit with our neighbor, Joan (not her real name). With a tone of disbelief she told me they briefly touched on a racial issue, during which our neighbor repeated a common racist line when discounting why she should care about systemic racism: “It’s not my fault, I never owned slaves.” Sandy always tries her best to remain amicable in conversations, gently pointed out that wasn’t the issue. To which Joan replied, “And anyway, it wasn’t so bad, at least they had jobs.”
This shocked Sandy but didn’t surprise me in the least. I already knew the woman was racist by any number of clues I’d picked up in dealing with her from time to time. I keep my distance from people I consider toxic and she’s one. I want to scream when she rides over on her quad and says something ignorant like, “You two work as hard as men!” Or asks which one of us cooks or does wife things. *sigh*
Sandy always wants to be neighborly and is better than I’ll ever be at seeing good in people. Don’t get me wrong, I do think there is good in almost everyone. I’m more than willing to help Joan move a bag of top soil or get her mail. We helped her out last year when her husband passed. I’m not totally unfeeling. It’s just that when I am confronted by bigotry and intolerance coming from the same person, I tend to steer clear, I don’t see it as my mission to convert them. Mostly because I think they can’t be converted.
As my biggest fan, Sandy usually works my writing into any conversation when she meets somebody and this neighbor is no exception. I’m humbled by her support and pride in my writing, even if I think she overdoes it sometimes. What I never saw coming was that she would dig copies of my novels out of the box in the bottom of the closet and give them to this neighbor. Holy shit.
Me: Sandy, you do remember how much lesbian sex is depicted in those books, right?
Sandy: Oh, it will be fine. She’s an adult.
Me: (shaking my head) Okay… (I mean it was already too late.)
A few weeks later, I was outside working in the yard and I heard a car coming up the drive. It was Joan. I told her Sandy was inside. And she said, okay, but first, I want to tell you that I finished your books! I love your writing style and your descriptions are amazing. Devon is such a great character. I thanked her and had to admit I was pleased. She said she read them all back to back because she couldn’t wait to find out what happened. Sandy came outside and the two of them talked about the books while I stood there, slightly embarrassed, but feeling good.
Then Joan said something that surprised me. “You know, I realized reading your books what Devon and Conner feel in their relationships is just how I felt about my Frank. It’s no different. Just love.”
And I was speechless.
Sandy grinned ear to ear and later said, “See? You’re writing converted Joan. We’re having a positive impact on the world.”
I had to admit, it was a pretty amazing thing to have our very conservative neighbor speak so openly about love being the only thing that matters. Maybe I was wrong about Joan. It gave me a newfound sense of hope for the world.
Yesterday, Joan stopped by and I didn’t have the anxiety I usually have when I see her, which was great. Sandy chatted with her while I got some work done. Eventually, I hear them talking about current events & politics. Sandy brings up the story of an Ohio store owner, a Dreamer, brought here at eight years old, who was arrested by ICE and is to be deported.
Joan said, “I’m glad they deported him. He’s been in our country 30 years, why didn’t he ever bother to become a citizen? These Illegals are taking jobs from Americans.”
I started getting that familiar queasy feeling as I listened.
“What jobs did you ever lose to an immigrant?” Sandy asked.
“They don’t want to learn English. They just want to get welfare. I’m sick of it.”
Sandy pressed, “No, tell me what job you didn’t get because of an immigrant.”
“Not to an immigrant. At my old job, a black woman got the promotion I deserved just because of her race.”
Sandy asked if she was sure that was the reason. Absolutely, Joan said.
“Did the woman work there the same amount of time or less than you?” Sandy asked.
Joan admitted the woman worked there a couple of years longer. Sandy said, “Don’t you think her seniority might have been the reason?”
Nope. Joan was emphatic. “She got that job instead of me because she was black, plain and simple. If you’re white that’s what happens nowadays. Whites and Christians are discriminated against.”
Sandy looked my way with a plea to help. I shrugged. One step forward, two steps back. Clearly, Joan’s newfound tolerance has limits.
Guess I better finish another book.