Last week I was waiting in line at the bank and decided to ask the lady behind me if she knew any good jokes. “Only dirty ones,” she said with a glint in her eye. So I said: “Where are mediocre things made?” She stared back blankly. I took this as a sign she felt uncertain about exchanging jokes with strangers in public. I ventured forth anyway: “In a satis-factory.” The groan from people in line even five spots ahead of me was loud, like the lamentation of the Egyptians when the angel of death visited.
Then the lady behind me gathered her courage: “I have a friend who likes pun jokes, so I made a list of ten pun jokes I thought he’d like. But no pun in ten did.” I burst out laughing so hard! I felt handsomely rewarded for being sociable in the bank line.
Anyway, today I was again in the bank line on Friday and got into a fun conversation with a beautiful elderly black woman with a Jamaican accent and younger black man with a hair net and a gap in his teeth. The man was going on vacation soon and talked about how when he’s on vacation he only wears one sock. “How did that tradition get started?” I asked. “My daughter did that once so now we all do it when we’re on vacation.” We joked for awhile, then my turn with the teller came. When I left I smiled at the man and wished him a good vacation. “Thank you brother,” he said.
Last week I was in the waiting room of a lab when a middle-aged black woman came out crying. I was alarmed and stood up and went to her. “What’s wrong?” “My mother just died.” I touched her lightly on the arm and sympathized. “Do you want to talk a little?” She declined; her daughter was waiting in the car. “But thank you, brother; thank you so much.” She hugged me and left.
That’s only a few incidents, but I’m sure I’ve been called “brother” by black people more lately. I love it. I’ve lived and ministered in a mostly black neighborhood for many years, and I’ve often been called “brother” by black people I know; but being called “brother” by strangers has caught my attention.
I wonder if some of our black brothers and sisters are feeling as I am â€“ that is, strained by racial tensions in America and wanting some simple, kind connections with people of other races. All this walking on eggshells gets tiring.
I’m up for in-depth conversation about race and social injustice. Most of what I hear on podcasts and news shows isn’t helpful, but Breaking Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility by African-American sociologist George Yancy is a helpful start. I recommend it.