Saturday night Jeff and I ducked into a cute little Irish pub for a draft beer and a couple games of backgammon (he won one game and helped me win the other, what a nice guy). We’d never been to this place before and we liked it right away–it was filled to the brim with only about 25 people. The atmosphere was old school, nothing fancy, small and low ceilinged and in the corner there was a guy singing mellow bar music with an electric keyboard. After we finished our backgammon games, we ordered a bite to eat and I had the best bowl of pasta fagioli I think I’ve ever had. The musician began to play Billy Joel’s, “Piano Man,” and when he got to the lyric, Now John at the bar is a friend of mine, he gets me my drinks for free. And he’s quick with a joke… he paused and called out to the bartender to come up with a quick joke, which he did.
It began like this: A black guy finds a lamp, rubs it, and a genie comes out…
That is all of this joke that I will tell you here and, unfortunately, while I have no mind for remembering jokes that are actually funny, I will remember this completely offensive joke forever. Incidentally, substitute any type of person–Jew, Mexican, woman, gay guy, whatever– and this joke remains a bad one. Its inappropriateness was not lost on anyone and, thankfully no one laughed. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence where I can only believe that all the people in this room were thinking what I was thinking, Did that guy really just say that?
Ignorance is never funny and I could feel myself being offended as adrenaline in my body. I was glad that the singer made a comment about the prejudiced bartender and I sat there thinking about what Maya Angelou said once in an interview about racism and sexism. She said if you don’t say anything, you are part of it. Now, I have to tell you, as much as I wanted to say something to the racist bartender, that kind of hate and anger really scares me, especially in a room full of people who have been drinking. So, we got our check and gathered ourselves to leave. I pulled over the waitress and told her what happened just to tell someone. She was young and pretty and not really sure what to say except that this guy was “like that” and that he believed people liked him because he “said what he thought.” Well, I’m not so sure about that. I’m certain that I didn’t like him.
We got home and turned on the TV. One of the channels had the tail end of an old Jeffersons show and we tuned in just in time to see George say something racially disparaging to Tom and Helen, the multiracial couple. After that, an episode of Seinfeld followed and, in it, Jerry’s dentist, who had just converted to Judaism, began telling Jewish jokes which pissed Jerry off. But, context, of course, changes everything, doesn’t it?
Ironically, this week celebrates the birth of a man who was likely dark-skinned and definitely Jewish and who became a spiritual leader who, perhaps more than anything, promoted love and tolerance among all peoples. But, yes, context changes everything.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, my friends, and blessings to you and yours.
TRY THIS WEEK: Be kind to each other out there.