Yesterday, I made a new friend during a weekly celebration of Philly's beerliciousness. He worked in the same industry as me, had roots in the middle east like me, and was a damn interesting conversation (much like myself). Our highly-engaging discussion was only interrupted by the loud, unintelligible rants of some drunk guy two dozen feet away near the bar.
Brimming with a liquor-induced hunger for drama and confrontation, the token loudmouth stealthily emerged unannounced directly in my new friend's face. Completely out of the blue and sans introduction, he uttered the following to my friend:
"Let me guess, your name starts with an A."
(Incidentally, my name begins with an A; I'm Jewish). The bellicose harasser promptly moved on to "M" and several other letters before my new friend, mercifully, remarked that his name began with a "W."
But the drunk guy couldn't stop himself. He quickly and confidently declared, "It can only be Wassan. I have you pegged, don't I? I've been all over the world, and I know my shit." He didn't. After painfully watching the inebriated bigot make a complete ass out himself for a few excruciating moments longer, my friend finally gave up his name. It was Arabic, which left the racist feeling vindicated.
Predictably, the racist went on to wrongly speculate on my new friend's country of origin. My friend, who is originally from a Muslim country but feels right at home here, told him he was from "America."
Throughout the evening, the close-talking racist went on to use the N word and a smattering of epithets that spared no group but always lurched back towards the middle east. During the entire process, I braced myself for a fist-turned-projectile (likely mine or my new friend's) plummeting towards bigot-the-clown's face. I was mortified, but my new friend handled it deftly. By the end of the night, his harasser was inviting him to have dinner at his restaurant and, with the demeanor of a giddy middle schooler, asking to exchange cell phone numbers.
When I expressed to my new friend that the evening's trainwreck was totally new to me--in the part of the South where I grew up, such up-frontedness with one's racism was likely to result in serious injury or death--my new friend indicated that he deals with it all the time. My new friend, though a graduate of one of the top universities in the country, is currently employed as a cook since being laid off as an engineer for a patent firm. Encounters like the disturbing meet-up with the bar's token racist are a dime a dozen for him.
The next day (today), it was with a little irony that I took my son to see the St. Patty's Day Parade, where a diverse array of citizens from the sixth largest city in America came together to celebrate the heritage of a people, now Americans for generations, who were once almost universally despised as immigrants.