Pastor Walter Mitty had a hard time sleeping Sunday night. Over the weekend he had experience after experience of people not being able to agree on what the facts are … or the nature of reality itself.
So as he and Michael Rosenthal walked to Retro Grind for a latte on Monday morning, Michael said, “Walt, are you OK?”
“It shows, huh?”
“Yeah, what’s wrong?” Michael said to his neighbor.
As they walked into the coffee shop, Michael said, “Hey, Zaphne. Walt and I decided to try one of your lattes. I like the new addition.”
Zaphne Hinkley smiled coyly. She and the two friends had this flirtatious thing going on for several years now, even though Pastor Mitty and Michael were twice her age. “I knew you two liked espresso drinks, so I converted half the space at Retro into a coffee shop just for you.”
Michael blushed but replied, “And we appreciate it.”
Pastor Mitty was in no mood for banter. The pair got their drinks and sat down at a table in the corner of the shop.
“So what’s up?”
“Michael, it started Saturday at the Main.” Mitty took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and put the glasses back on. “You know what Alice is like. Well, before she even took our orders, she started in on us. She put her hands on her hips and said ‘President Trump really let you liberals have it in the speech he gave to the real Americans at the VFW convention.’ When one of the guys in the men’s group asked what she meant, Alice quoted Trump: ‘Don’t believe the crap you see from these reporters here. What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
Pastor Mitty rubbed his eyes again. “All of the guys knew this was vintage Alice, of course, but Eric couldn’t contain himself. ‘Alice,’ he said, ‘The New York Times listed over 3,000 verified lies our so-called president has told in the last 18 months and you still believe him?'”
“You damn right, and I’m glad someone is finally telling it like it is.”
“Well,” Mitty continued, “the group more or less dismissed what Alice had said, agreeing she probably had bad potty training or something Freudian like that and recalled Pontius Pilate asking Jesus during his farce of a trial, ‘What is truth?'”
“I see the irony,” said Michael.
“Yeah, well,” Mitty continued, “at the coffee hour the next day at church, Dominique said he was bothered by what he had just learned — that 76 percent of murder victims in Chicago were black and before he could finish the sentence, Sharissa jumped in and said, ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell everyone forever. That’s clear evidence of what white racism and privilege have done to people of color.’
“Dominique paused before saying anything. I could tell he didn’t want to seem defensive. ‘And I also learned,’ he added, ‘that 70 percent of those doing the killing were black.’ Sharissa actually stood up and said, ‘Dominique, where’d you get that stuff, from Fox News?’ Dominique quietly answered, ‘No, it was Ebony Magazine.'”
“Then what happened?” Michael asked.
Pastor Mitty took a sip of his latte which was already starting to cool down and said, “Sharissa just got angrier, pointed her finger and said, ‘Dominique, why are you trotting out statistics like that? It just makes white people comfortable in their white privilege.’
“‘I know, I know,’ Dominique replied, ‘but it’s the truth.'”
“Sounds like a lot of tension,” said Michael.
“You can say that again,” Mitty continued. “I was glad to get out of there and get back home. But I didn’t want to dismiss what Sharissa said either, so I went online to PolitiFacts and was troubled by what I learned. More whites were killed by blacks last year than blacks were killed by whites.
“Then I found in the New York Times, of all places, a ‘Dear White People’ letter by Prof. George Yancy, who declared that all white people are racist. Michael, I’ve been doing this diversity thing long enough to know that I should try to manage my defensiveness and continue reading to learn what the man meant by that statement.
“He wrote, ‘After all, you are part of a system that allows you to walk into stores where you are not followed, where you get to go for a bank loan and your skin does not count against you, where you don’t need to engage in the talk that black people and people of color must tell their children when they are confronted by white police officers.”
Michael tried to be a good listener, but finally responded. “You know, Walt. What you’ve been telling me stirs up some painful emotions. I’ve heard so many stories at temple about how if your last name was Blumenthal or Cohen or Greenberg you had a hard time getting a job unless you applied to a Jewish-owned business. Do you realize that back in the 1940s our temple in Poplar Park was bought as a straw purchase?”
“Yeah, a liberal Christian member of the ACLU bought it under his name and transferred the title to our congregation because no one in our little town at that time would sell property to a Jew. We can pass as ‘white’ but as soon as people heard the sound of our last names, we were denied access.”
“Are you angry about that?”
“I guess I am. You could hear it in my voice, couldn’t you?”
The two friends finished their lattes.
Finally, it was Pastor Mitty who broke the silence. “Michael, it’s hard enough to separate fact from fiction these days, but isn’t there a time to speak the truth and a time to not say anything?”
“You mean,” said Michael, “that the so-called truth can be used to build bridges or walls?”
“And if you find you can’t speak the truth in love,” Pastor Mitty concluded, “then maybe it’s better to say nothing until your heart is in a better place.”