Sometimes people tell me I look like I’m from New York. This doesn’t happen often, but it happens enough that the comment is worth decoding.
What does a New Yorker look like? There’s no one answer, but that’s the point. What the people who say this really mean is that I look Jewish.
I was talking about this with my friend over lunch today. We were discussing the election and how, at the very least, the results embolden those who traffic in hate and validate those who reject the moral imperative to examine their own biases.
We finished our lunch on a positive note and walked to our cars. We hugged goodbye, but before we could part ways, a stranger stopped us.
“Tough day,” he said.
“Yeah,” my friend said.
“Do you have a job?” the stranger asked, adding quickly that he posed this question because my friend was wearing jeans.
At this point, I need to pause the story to give you some relevant details.
The stranger was a white man.
My friend is a black man.
My friend and I were both wearing jeans. But let’s be clear: he looked sharp, as always. I looked kind of grungy, as usual.
What you wear is a poor proxy for employment, especially in Los Angeles. But here’s the thing, the stranger asked my friend if he had a job; he didn’t ask me.
And let’s put a spotlight on the language of the stranger’s question. Does it strike you as forward, or rude, or inappropriate to ask someone you don’t even know if they have a job? A job. As in, are you employed? Not, how do you make a living, or what do you do? Not, what is your vocation? The stranger’s question assumed that my friend, the black guy who just happened to be wearing jeans, might be unemployed.
So how did my friend respond?
He told the stranger that he owns a tech support company.
“Oh, ok,” the stranger said.
Then the stranger walked away without saying goodbye.
“I’m glad you witnessed that,” my friend said.
Witness is the right word, not because I needed to see it with my own eyes to believe it, but because I have a moral obligation to bear witness.
“Can I share this on Facebook?” I asked.
“Fuck yes, and please do.”