I am standing in line outside Sweet Maple café in Chicago, waiting to enjoy a special brunch on a warm and sunny Sunday of August. I have come here often to this café and, considering the long line outside, I realize that I am not the only one so affectionate about this place. From time to time a young waitress comes out to call the next person who can be accommodated at a free table. This time she comes out to call my name “Giulia” (Julia in English), but I don’t even answer because I have a few people standing in line before me. She calls out again my name, and this time she is looking at me. Quite confused, I reach her and I answer her question: “Do you mind sharing your table with other people?”. “Oh, no I don’t mind. Actually, it’s great”, I say. Then, I tell myself: what a nice opportunity this morning!
Shani and her son Jeremiah welcome me with a big smile and together we head towards our table. “Thank you for accepting to share this table with us”. The lady says. “They first asked other people but they refused”, she adds. Now I am even more confused and I ask why. “Because we are Black”, she says. I feel bewildered and astonished by the weird situation, and unable to say a word, I give them my best smile, seeking to enjoy their company without sad thoughts.
The café is beautiful and the atmosphere all around is so pleasant. I order the Sweet Maple Special (eggs, bacon, sausage, and fries) and they order many other different meals. We start talking to get to know each other a little bit while the first plates arrive. “Oh, delicious, yummy!” I say enthusiastically. “Giulia, taste these pancakes with the best Vermont maple syrup, and these Cinnamon Roll Pancakes”. We are talking while the waiter is coming with many other colorful plates and our small round table becomes a triumph of flavors and aromas that they keep offering to me while I am so pleased to share.
“I am a social justice activist”, she says “And what type of work do you do Giulia?”. We continue to talk, then I discover that Jeremiah is fond of comics, and the conversation spans various topics until Shani makes a revelation: “Today is a special day”, she says. “My son Jeremiah is turning 18 years old and we are delighted to celebrate it with you. This is a very important birthday and it’s also the beginning of Jeremiah’s Rites of Passage Ceremony because today I recognize my son as a man, he will take care of his life and of mine too. I have protected him since he was born and now he will protect me until I die”. I am touched by this revelation, and while Shani keeps talking to her son, delivering a kind of initiation speech, I am moved to tears and I thank the Universe for the moment I am living right now.
I ask for the check, it’s time to go. The waiter comes and tells me with a big smile: “No check today”. I think he is joking but Shani and Jeremiah’s eyes tell me I was a guest today! Guest of two unknown people who felt happy to invite an unknown Italian woman to celebrate this great day. I am happily surprised.
“In this case”, I say, “I want to be fully part of your birthday Jeremiah. I came across a comics shop while coming here. So please, let’s go there together so that I can buy you a gift”. In a few minutes, we are in the shop and he chooses the thinner and cheaper comic and there is no way to make him pick up something more valuable.
“Happy Birthday, Jeremiah!” I thank, embrace and say goodbye before returning home.
On my way back my mind starts wandering with thousands of questions. Why racism between people? What is racism? “Racism” what an abstract word. Yes, abstract like the feeling that can be delivered to something unknown, something abstract indeed. I mean, we are real people, with real lives but become insubstantial when we are put in a space that can be white or black people, different confessions, different sexuality, and so on. Sometimes our minds create a separate place where to allocate people we don’t feel similar to. But this mental process is not an independent mechanism but it’s something that was created by the social system in which we live and that it is above us. Sadly, it could be easy to develop bad feelings, driven by the social system, towards people we don’t even know. Any identity of every single person disappears when his life is put in a kind of category. And discriminations take into account categories and stereotypes, not the single person.
For this reason, I think that racism or any kind of discrimination are abstract because even when they are shown against a defined person, they are actually addressed to an abstract category created by the system.
To be racist or discriminating means to give up our own personal mental freedom submitting to a general and abstract thought that is not ours, and it’s not the fruit of our personal experience with that particular person.
Now I feel so sad. The happiness I was feeling before is fading away because of my thoughts and my reflections. I feel a sense of pity for the people that refused to share the table. A kind of pain, because I am really sorry for them and their conditioned minds.
I would like to go back to that moment at the café and tell the people who refused to share the table with Shani and her son that racism is a feeling that enslaves people to the system without them even knowing it. Today they missed the chance to celebrate a big day with wonderful people but in the future, they could miss the opportunity to celebrate the very meaning of their lives. The meaning based on the freedom to decide on loving and connecting with other people without limits or barriers.
Human Connections are the biggest power we have in our lives to deeply exert our freedom, reject ideas created by the social system, and act forever through our hearts, and only through our hearts. And this is not utopia but it’s just a conscious action that any human being can take in a responsible way.
Sharing a table, food, ideas with unknown people is always an amazing enrichment, and we should never miss this chance when life is offering us this gift!