All of us, whether we want to admit it or not, have preconceived ideas, which is just a dressed up way of saying “prejudices” in one way or another. Mine showed up a few weeks ago. As I was preparing to go out for the evening, the doorbell rang. As usual I had spent far more time internet surfing (oh, okay, I’d been blogging!) than I should have, so I only had a precious few minutes to get ready. Isn’t that always when the doorbell rings? It’s Murphy’s or some other law, I think.
I opened the door partway and peered outside. There were two black men standing there breathing heavily, wiping perspiration with white handkerchiefs. It was a hot summer afternoon and they’d climbed a good number of steps to get up to our front door. I was sure the only young men who would dress like that on such a hot day, and go door to door in pairs, had to be missionaries!
When we moved here two years ago, my Las Vegas friends had teased me that young missionaries would be knocking on my door all the time wanting to share their message with me. On our last visit there several months ago, I’d been able to brag that we hadn’t had even one missionary visit yet.
After they saw me, both young men started cringing, holding out both arms and hands to show me they weren’t harboring any weapons, apologizing profusely all the while. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid!” My face must have look like death warmed over with fright. Actually, I wasn’t afraid of them at all. What I actually was, was p****d, thinking that Oops! Missionaries! I’ve been caught!
Both had on long-sleeved, white dress shirts, and dress shoes and slacks. What would you have thought? It quickly dawned on me, however, that this was indeed a comedy of errors. They thought I was afraid of them because they were black. I wasn’t afraid of their blackness. What I was afraid of was how they were dressed. I’m sure that they must have thought, while looking at me, here’s a stereotypical white suburban woman who’s scared to death of black men.
I glanced at my watch, and also thought how late I was going to be if I didn’t get going soon. I’m sure they didn’t believe me at all when I explained that I didn’t have time to listen to any messages today because I had to leave for an engagement soon. No, No, they assure me, they don’t have any message for me.
I was puzzled for a moment, but soon realized they had been dropped here by an organization that hires young black youths to sell magazines door to door, capitalizing I suspect on the natural guilt wealthier suburbanites may feel when confronted with young people who obviously have less than they.
Two problems I said. One. I didn’t need magazines, I already get too many. Two. I really didn’t have time to stand here because I have to leave very soon. None of which they believed, I could see it in their faces.
I’ve always had a problem being rude to people. I was trained too well by my southern mother that you don’t turn people away at the door. So I had to struggle with her politeness training that insists you don’t treat people rudely, and the need to close the door and go get dressed. I don’t know where Hubby was; I suspect he was in the next room being very amused.
So I was forced to brush them off abruptly. It really hurt me to do it because they seemed so sure I was doing it because they were black and I was white and I didn’t care about Ghetto kids. There was simply no way of explaining to their satisfaction that I’m retired, I don’t spend money needlessly on magazines, I give my support in other ways.
For the wrapup to this story, I skip ahead now to another time, just about two weeks ago. Hubby and I had spent a very busy day with our new University classes and such, and came home to change into our PJs, make a simple dinner, and settle down for a little television to unwind. The doorbell rang.
I stayed put, since my PJs aren’t for the public to see, and Hubby went to the door in his more presentable ones. I continued to watch Big Brother on CBS. Hubby was engaged in a lengthy conversation with someone at the front, but it seemed friendly, and since he is on a number of committees I just thought that was what it was about.
About 45 minutes later, he comes back into the family room and tells me we just had our first visit from two Mormon missionaries. But, they weren’t young men dressed in suits and ties, they were older men and they lived somewhere in our neighborhood and wanted to talk to him about the LDS religion. He told them he actually knew quite a bit about Mormonism, and was quite comfortable with his own spirituality. They talked of his education at a Jesuit college in India, and about Saint Thomas who spent time there. They made no move whatever to push him to convert.
It’s easy to see that there were a lot of preconceived notions about people going on in this little comedy, and they weren’t just mine. On my part, the concern was about Mormon missionaries. The young black men probably think all suburban white women are afraid of them. It’s good for us to see our own prejudices mirrored back at us now and then, so we can take a look at them and see if they still fit.