I Prefer My Own Brand of Ignorance

She hobbled out of the foyer of her well-tended high-rise apartment building - neatly-dressed, gray-haired, stooped - and headed toward my taxi. I climbed out and opened the rear passenger door, took her elbow, guided her into the seat, and helped her buckle in.

She said she was headed to a nearby grocery store, and then asked: "So, are you happy with the new president?"

I admitted to being happier with the old one.

"But weren't you sick of all the lying? Aren't you ready for a fresh start?"

"We should not have a political discussion today," I told her. "I already had one with my mother this morning - it ended badly. And I can tell..."

"Well, I'm a Democrat," she said, "but I just couldn't be happier. Do you know how affirmative action started?"

"I'm serious - we can't have this discussion. How 'bout that Super Bowl?"

"Oh, I don't care about those things. But really, do you know how affirmative action started?"

I said, "I'm sure there are at least twenty different versions of how affirmative action started, and I'm sure, really, I don't want to talk about any of them."

"I heard a radio interview with the man who wrote the original law - a Harvard professor! He wrote it thirty years ago, and now he says he made a mistake."

"Lady, there's no way this conversation can end well. Please!"

"Are you a Gentile?"

"Oh, man! I'm a human being."

"He said he wrote it for the blacks, the yellows, and the Jews."

"He said 'the yellows'? On the radio?"

"Yes!" she said. "'The blacks, the yellows, and the Jews.' But now he says he made a mistake - he says it was all wrong. There was nothing in it for the Gentiles. Nothing for us. It was all for the..."

"Lady! Please!"

"After the war this was a great country. Now there've been all these people coming here. Look at you - you're a Caucasian. I don't know if you're a Gentile or Jew, but whatever you are, if you think you can get some of the things these new people get..."

Stopped at a signal, I tossed my hands in the air. "I just can't have this conversation."

"So you tell me," she said. "How do you think affirmative action started?"

"I'll tell you this. You don't really care what I think - you want me to say something, anything, just so you can tell me how wrong I am."

"Well," she said, "I know how affirmative action started."

"Make you a deal," I said. "I'll stick to my brand of ignorance, you stick to yours."

A little puff of air escaped her. We rode the last few blocks in silence. At her grocery store, I walked around to the side door and opened it. The woman was having trouble with her seatbelt, so I unbuckled it for her. I took her elbow, helped her struggle up out of the cab. She paid me - no tip - and we both said thank you and wished each other a good day.

As I drove away I reflected on the divisions in America. How'd we get so evenly split, with each side so equally convinced of its rightness? No one in the one camp will ever be won over by the arguments of those in the other. The best we might hope for is a truce.

My own conversation-ending words came back to me. I'll stick to my brand of ignorance, you stick to yours. I ran them through my mind several times. They had a definite ring. Perhaps I'd come upon the perfect slogan, the perfect healing strategy for our all-too-interesting times: I'll stick to my brand of ignorance, you stick to yours. Perhaps I was on to something. Indeed - wasn't I feeling better already?

 
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