Monday, January 21, 2008

605. To dream

I live on a block with many restaurants, including a Hot and Crusty (faux-European-style bakery serving croissants and panini), and a McDonald's. The avenues west of this block of restaurants are upper middle-class, and get trendier by the minute. Around the corner is a youth hostel catering to authentic Europeans, and a boutique hotel stylish for being off the beaten tourist path.

The avenues east of this block are filled with low-income housing populated mainly by Hispanics and African-Americans.

I buy coffee and a bagel every morning at Hot & Crusty in the company of wide-eyed German- or French-accented backpackers (from the hostel and hotel), and bored, frazzled suits on their way to work. Sometimes I go to McDonald's at lunchtime for a fairly decent salad and stand on line behind darker-skinned patrons, students from local public schools, families with little kids, or senior citizens who sit for an hour to nurse a cup of tea.

I rarely see black people at Hot & Crusty. I rarely see white people at McDonald's. Prices are comparable at each restaurant, and both have ample seating and good coffee. Micky D's is actually a little shiner and fancier. The food is equally caloric (grease vs. butter). Why, I wonder, have many of their respective clientele self-selected--habit, custom, an expectation that one group is supposed to eat mainstream fast food and the other, a more pretentious version of same? Why doesn't everyone admit that the bad pizza at Hot & Crusty is as satisfying as the fries at McDonald's, and swap seats every once in awhile?

But one group looks through the front window and sees the other sitting at a table, recalls hundreds of years of stereotypes with barely a conscious thought, and assumes they are unwelcome... do not belong... are in danger. I know I am guilty of this as well, if not at my local McDonald's then in unfamiliar neighborhoods, or perhaps on the subway. I try to be aware of how these small choices can profoundly change the way we live with one another, and usually succeed. But sometimes I forget to think about anyone but myself.

As we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. z"l, I pray that his dreams continue to knock some sense into us all.

(More to come about a very interesting MLK Day event I attended on Sunday.)


Unknown said...

Interesting observation and a reminder of the small choices we make everyday.

Claire Joy said...

Thanks for the visit to my blog... now I can add yours to my daily meditations.

We have much more in common (we human beings) than we can comprehend... maybe that's why we focus so grudgingly on the differences. It's so much easier.