Impressions and Memories

Neither judge an apple by its skin
nor a book by the way it's covered;
for inside those tattered pages
there's a lot to be discovered.

Isn't it funny how we form images of what we expect people to be based on the tiniest amount of interaction with or observation of them?

I remember when I was at college, about five years ago now. Every year the college hosted an "Old People's Party". It wasn't a Christmass party or anything like that - just one day, after college hours, we'd put on a spread for some of the elderly people in the area who perhaps didn't get out very much and were perhaps dependent on others a fair bit. We'd put on a spread, sing songs, play bingo and a few board games, and do some other things.

I volunteered to help one year and on the day of the party, I overslept. Having only about five minutes before my bus was due, I just threw on some clothes and legged it to the bus stop. I had my weekly bus ticket in my pocket but realised at college that I had forgotten to pick up my wallet. Not having had breakfast, I was having a lot of difficulty concentrating on anything after lunchtime as I had no money to get lunch and pride prevented me from asking a friend. I was so very hungry!

Anyway, come the end of classes for the day, I went to help prepare for the party. We arranged chairs and tables, and prepared sandwiches. It was really difficult preparing all this food on an empty stomach. All I'd had to eat for the day was a crisp - one solitary crisp - and that's only because someobody I had been speaking with earlier in the day had been eating a packet of crisps and had offered me one.

We made trays of these sandwiches and then took them through to the next room. As I took a tray through, I thought I'd sneak one of the sandwiches to keep me going for a while. Well, as I took the first bite, I became aware of a disembodied voice, saying, 'I thought the sandwiches were for the old people'. I jumped, looked round, and saw, in the doorway, Mrs Whitelegg. Now Mrs Whitelegg was a teacher with whom I had no dealings at all, as she taught a subject I didn't take in a building that I never had cause to enter. She just happened to be walking past the doorway at the time, then she went on her way without saying anything further. I looked in the other direction back into the main hall, and surely enough, Mrs Waller and some of the students who had been arranging the party had heard Mrs Whitelegg and had looked up. When they saw me look back, most of them politely and sensitively looked away and didn't mention it afterwards. I appreciated that but it was all very awkward afterwards and I can still think of very few occasions when I have been so very embarrassed.

Now, I'm sure that Mrs Whitelegg is a lovely lady, with many good qualities and friends who will vouch for that, but the thing is, because of my limited dealings with her, out of my two years at college, my one memory of her was as "that woman who humiliated me that day when I was hungry and had no money to buy food". Now to be fair, I shouldn't have been eating the sandwich, and now I think more about it, the one memory she had of me must have been as "that boy who steals old people's sandwiches".

I suppose it's a lesson not to judge people's personalities based on limited experience of them and that each person is worth getting to know properly. Still, we live in a rational world where much of how we conduct ourselves is based on our experience and it is often difficult to take a step back from that and acknowledge that our experience is not all that there is to the world and to people. Hmmm.

I'm wittering now, so I'll stop.

6 responses:

FreeCyprus said...

Ahh you are right, we can't judge based on a comment, a look, even a few words. We gotta give people a chance to prove their worth...and even when they prove to be "worthless" God says there is still hope for redemption.

Good blog.

Darryl said...

The problem is that people assess situations at face value rather than looking at the problem as a whole. When she looked at you as "that boy who steals old people's sandwiches", I doubt it would've passed through her mind to say "Why is that boy stealing old people's sandwiches?" Its in our critical nature.

Its a little bit sad really

Michael said...

Freecyprus and Darryl, welcome! Good too see you and hear your thoughts.

I agree with both of you. It's just so easy to rely too much on our own perceptions, and that is what many of us do all too often. :-(

Monkeywrenchmel said...

I have a lot of stories like that. I still though have some trouble. I had a run in with an African-American lady I worked with since I told her she looked like Alice Walker. She decided to mock me and use lesson plan. She launched into a tirade of "well, we all look alike". Fortunately, I had worked at that office for years (near East Palo Alto, California...a predominately African-American area, plus Hispanic) and in the minority of being European-American (better than Caucasion).

One gal took her aside and explained to her "duchess is a good girl..."

But even so, I tried to make my apology and got yet another tirade...

"That's ok. The African-American race is the most varied race on earth...blah blah...it is up to the African-American to educate the Caucasion.."

I was horrified. And this is just ONE of MANY stories like that I encountered in my 6 years of reverse discrimination.

What I ended up with is larger than average view of the anger of many African Americans. I ended up too pussy-footing a lot of what I say. My best friend is half black and I guess that did not ever help me to stop having the wrath directed at me many times.

I find now though I get along with blacks since I have more awareness.

I just wish many blacks would try to be more patient with the average white girl. I wish they did not have to take out so much of their rage on me. I mean I was cornered and "called out" (meaning come out and fight me in the parking lot), I was slapped in public. I was told off so many times, laughed at.

I wish they could have understood i am not a racist if I make mistakes.

Sorry to make this all about ME Michael.

I just had a flashback, that's all my dear fellow.

And for your information, I don't really think of you as any color...I just remembered you are Carribean-English (I don't know what blacks call themselves in the UK and I give up being politically correct).

Love ya!

Michael said...

Don't apologise. I'm glad for the story. You're right, you know? Many black people (which is the term on this side of the pond - although on the census form I was "mixed white British black Caribbean"), look for every opportunity to take offence, even in situations where it's quite obvious that none is intended. I'm actually rather embarrassed by it at times, and it's the only time I think of myself as any colour. It's strange really. The only other time I'm aware of it is when I realise that other people are tip-toeing around me, which I find a little annoying but I can understand how they feel becasue of the PC madness of our culture. I usually try to defuse the awkwardness by finishing their sentence for them, using some politically incorect term to refer to myself and then smiling. People tend to relax then.

I think I may have mentioned here in the past that, although I was born right here in Greater Manchester, my mother was black West Indian and my father was white French, but born to Irish parents. I really couldn't care less what people refer to me as, although there was the one occasion where a "lady" at my bus stop told me to go back home to Iraq. I was with a friend at the time and we both just started laughing.

You mustn't worry too much, duchess. That story says more about that lady's hang-ups than it does about you.

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