How to Break the Cycle of RacismA Saturday night not very long ago. I went out for an evening in Hillcrest with my friend Sheri. She and I work together; we like each other but don’t yet know each other that well. So this was sort of a move in that direction, getting to be better friends.

We got a sidewalk table at A Taste of Thai on University Avenue, beautiful day close to sunset, good cooking smells. We tucked into our food and conversation with equal enthusiasm.

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"This is such a cool town," I told her. "Last fall when I shaved my hair off, I was a spectacle everywhere I went. But here, nobody looked twice."

Sheri agreed. "I miss this place, I just haven’t been around enough lately. Mind if we stop in the bookstores before the movie?"

"That’d be great." I started laughing a little. "You know, when my sister was seeing a woman a few months ago, she had no intentions of telling my parents – not unless she and her girlfriend stayed together a long time. She was afraid of their rejection. I figured I should help prepare the way, so I brought my mom here for the day: shopping, lunch, movie, coffee at Quel Fromage… "

"What’d she think?"

"Oh, she dug it, but she still screwed up a couple of times. In a shop full of home decor stuff – fountains, statuary, and kitchenware – she said, ‘Oh, they’re so good with things like this!’"

"Ha!" Sheri laughed. "Oh god!"

"Later she called my sister and asked, ‘Why is Sharon always bringing me to gay areas?

"Ha" Sheri squawked. "So your sister’s not with a woman anymore?"

"Well, it fizzled out. She’s got a boyfriend now."

"Well, at least she was brave enough to try it."

Sheri and I talked about mutual friends, about sexual tolerance and misconceptions and misconceptions. We nibbled on Phad Thai and Garlic Ginger Chicken and Spring rolls, we drank Thai iced teas, we were enjoying ourselves.

"’You know my good friend Robin?’ she said. "Well, our mutual best friend got a little miffed when she and I became so close. One day she confronted me: ‘are you and Robin lovers?’ I didn’t know whether to be angry or flattered. Robin’s really young and cute!"

We laughed – it is funny. See, what Sheri and I were doing, getting to be better friends, is only another type of courtship. There’s sometimes so little difference between friendship and romance – you get to know each other, learn one another’s stories and remember them because they become important, you spend time together. You enjoy each other.

So there we were, having a nice old time, when on the other side of our little fence, the one that separated the restaurant’s diners from sidewalk pedestrians, a man approached us. He was in his 30’s fair skin, Billy Ray Cyrus haircut – long in back, short on top. On his check was a bit of toilet paper and a spot of dried blood.

"Excuse me, "he said to me, voice tinged with a drawl. ~"Now, I know this a homosexual neighborhood…"

My internal alarm sounded – he was about to say something horrible. Then again, he could just be a clueless tourist looking for directions. I decided to give him a few seconds longer.

" … but," he said, turning to Sheri, you are so pretty, it I thought for a minute you were a…"

I stopped him. "We don’t want to hear it. Split! Get outta here!"

"But … but…" he sputtered.

"Beat it!" I said.

He stood silent for a moment. Then confused and perhaps a little frustrated, he wandered off down the street.

Sheri looked stunned.

"What was all that? God, I thought he was panhandling at first"

"He thought I was your squeeze – I think he was asking my permission to date you. He’d stand a better chance it he got rid of that stupid piece of t.p. sticking to his face."

‘I can’t believe it… after what we were just talking about!"

And this isn’t his neighborhood, he’s essentially a guest."

"Yeah," Sheri shook her head. "I feel really angry. Think of all these people seated around us he probably offended."

At first I got a perverse charge out to the whole incident, You know, the effect of which is a bitter sort of laugh. But the longer I thought, the more of n pisser it was. I realized what my sister probably went through when out with her girlfriend, What the people who make Hillcrest the cool place it is face when visitors are rude and their minds are small

On the way to the bookstores on 5th Street, Sheri and I had to walk past a hollering Christian on the street corner" "Repent! Lie not with thine own sex! The Bible tells us it’s a sin!" He was loud loud loud and the sound pounded and soured in my skull

"Shut up!" I mumbled as I went past. "Just shut the fuck up."

Illustration by Tena Nguyen
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