The thing about karma is that it revels in pulling people off their high horse and giving them a good spanking. Only last week I blogged about how annoyed I was in the way I was spoken to on a health visit with my son. Well this week karma decided some payback was in order.
It happened on the way home from collecting my boys from school and pre-school. We needed a few items for dinner that night and had popped into the local supermarket. Now my two year-old only needs to hear a name once to remember it. It’s a great skill to have. I think he’ll grow up to be a politician; with his memory for names to go with the usual self-centred and slightly sociopathic tendencies of all toddlers he’ll be perfect.
Anyway, he was very tired this day so I was chattering away to him, using distraction so he would forget the tantrum he’d just had on hearing we had to go shopping. I asked who he thought we’d see at the shop and he immediately said John,* a young guy who usually works at the deli counter who always makes a fuss of my youngest.
As we walked down each aisle I would ask my youngest if he could see John. It was a great game which meant we completed the shop without further tears. Then, as we got to the checkout, my youngest started shouting “John” at the top of his voice, and a slightly embarrassed young man waved back from behind the till. So far, so normal.
When it was our turn to pay, John served us, but my little one kept pointing to the next server, a man also called John, saying “Two Johns, two Johns.”
“Oh,” I said in a sing-song voice. “You’re right. There are two Johns. How funny. I wonder how people tell them apart? Do you think they have nick-names or something?”
It was one of those occasions where I clearly wasn’t thinking, just talking to keep my son occupied, because as soon as the words had come out of my mouth a feeling of dread hit me. You see, one John was white, the other black.
I looked up to see “white” John give me an odd look, as if to say “was that a racist joke?” I stood there for a moment, my sense of discomfort increasing exponentially as I failed to think of a get out, my silence compounding the perceived crime. Meanwhile, “black” John looked across as if to say “did I hear you right?” I could have died.
The good news is that I didn’t compound the error by trying to talk my way out of it. Instead, I continued as if nothing was amiss, despite my scarlet face, and the moment was broken (at least I hope it was). Still, it got me thinking. Could the nurse from last week have been thinking the same thing? We can all be so quick to judge people, yet with one unthinking, innocent comment I could have understandably been mistaken as a rabid racist. I think I may owe that nurse an apology, or at the very least the benefit of the doubt.
Karma can be a complete bastard sometimes.
*Name has been changed to protect the innocent