I went to a late showing of Interstellar last night. I’m in Indiana and alone, so I figured, “Why not?”
It was a good movie
The cashier who handed me a Diet Coke and a box of Junior Mints was a young, black woman. As she poured the soda, I asked her if she had seen the movie yet, hoping for an informed opinion.
“No, not yet,” she said.
“But you get to see the movies for free,” I said. “Right?”
“Yeah,” she said. “But I have four jobs, and I’m a fulltime student at Purdue. So when I come here, I do my job, and get back to my homework or one of my other jobs. No time for movies. Or anything else other than work and school. At least not yet.”
I told her that if I lived in the area and owned a business, I would hire her on the spot. As someone who worked 50-60 hours a week while double majoring at Trinity College and Saint Joseph’s University, I know the amount of effort, tenacity, and determination required to put yourself through college all too well.
I wished her luck with her studies and headed to my movie with a bounce in my step. I felt like I had spoken to someone special. Someone who would do great things with her life.
I sat down in front and to the left of two middle aged, white couples. The trailers for upcoming movies came on. We watched the trailer for Selma, a Martin Luther King, Jr. docudrama about the civil right’s marches in Alabama.
One of the men to my left scoffed and said, “Another damn nigger movie.”
“Jim!” the woman (presumably his wife) sitting beside him whisper-yelled. “Don’t talk like that in public.”
I wanted to tell Jim and his wife that if I owned a business where they worked, I would fire them immediately.
Frankly, I wanted to drag Jim out of the theater by the scruff of his red neck and introduce him to the cashier who was working four jobs and attending school fulltime. Tell him that she was already more than he would ever be.
I didn’t say anything. I wanted to so badly, but the voice of my wife spoke to me, reminding me that my repeated confrontations with strangers will one day land me in a lot of trouble.
If I’m going to end up in trouble, at least let it be in my home state.
But my respect and admiration for the cashier whose name I wish I knew grew tenfold. While she and I both fought our way through college by working like dogs, I didn’t also have to deal with the Jims of the world.
Racism was not an obstacle for me.
The five years that I spent in college, two at Manchester Community College and three at Trinity College and Saint Joseph’s University, were hard enough without racists and bigots blocking my path and clouding my world.
I can’t begin to imagine how hard that must be on someone like that cashier.
I can only hope that when that young woman graduates from college and is ready to shed her four low paying jobs for one good one, there are fewer Jims in the world than there are today.
And for the Jims who are still standing when that day comes, I hope that they at least listen to their racist wives and keep their hateful remarks at home where they belong.