I had a conversation with my cleaner this afternoon that made me so mad I had to walk away before I said something regrettable.
It started with her asking me how my time in India was. You know, the usual stuff like the weather, food, the plane ride. Then she asked, "Did you see lots of poor people?"
The answer was, of course, I did. I explained how we were the first white people seen by one very rural village of Dalits, sometimes referred to as untouchables, and how these people live in abject poverty. Continued drought and the monsoon failure mean they are without food or water aside from the brackish water (part fresh part salt) they get from a well, which itself dries in summer months.
The thing is, I don't really like telling people this stuff because I don't wish to give the impression that I am being all 'holier than thou' just because I've seen it first hand. In fact, I have almost gone as far as to avoid talking about it while it is still so fresh in my mind, so I don't appear to have unbalanced enthusiasm for a new cause like some in-your-face, born again Christian intent only ramming 'God's love' down your throat. But she asked a few questions, so I answered them.
She inquired what I was personally doing to help the people. I told her that I was creating a website for the charity, and through the work, I've done in association with the company that took me out there, we've already got two major food companies to commit to a long term sponsorship deal within the first week of being back. This I felt was good news that I was pleased to share, but again tempered with a heavy dose of humility.
We then talked a bit about Oxfam and she spoke of "those leaflets you get through the door asking for money." She then began to talk about the new Band Aid song that has been released to raise money for charities working in Africa. She said it was a waste of time and effort and that the money wouldn't ever get to do anything good.
"It'll all get robbed," she claimed in a swaggering tone.
I looked at her with an obvious expression of questioning so she continued. "That's where all that money goes you know. It doesn't go to making anything better, does it? It just gets swallowed up and robbed. I don't give money to the black charities, and that's why."
"Black charities?" I asked.
"Yeah, you know love — any charity that helps the blacks. They're all crooked in that part of the world. I mean, why are we having another Band Aid song? See, what more proof d'ya need love? Why didn't it get fixed twenty years ago? Cause it all got robbed, didn't it."
I must have looked as shocked as I felt because I couldn't bring myself to even formulate even a sentence to respond to such a statement. As she continued to clean my hall she carried on talking with a tone that I simply couldn't believe I was hearing.
"You don't think all that food got to the blacks, do you? Come on love! If it did, then why are they still needing it? It all gets robbed I tell you. And besides, what about our poor? We've got poor here you know. Charity begins at home, I say."
I exclaimed that I thought of comparing the poor of our country to the poor of India and Africa is not reasonable, but she interrupted.
"It's money for the boys, is what it is," she said in an authoritative tone.
"What do you mean?" I questioned.
"Well, all this money doesn't go to the blacks, does it? Like I say, if it did, then why do they need it again?"
I couldn't believe anyone would so brazenly verbalize these opinions or even seriously think like this. So I asked her where she thought the money was going, exactly.
"Well, who paid for your holiday, eh? The blacks didn't need you over there, did they? See, that's why I don't give money to black charities, love," she said.
Before she finished the sentence I was already walking away.
I'm going to fire her, but this is a somewhat awkward situation because she is also the cleaner for the hairdressing salon downstairs and as such, this means we'll still have regular interactions.
It's tricky because I want to tell her that I think her opinions are disgusting and wrong, but at the same time, I don't want to create a bad atmosphere or awkward situation when she's still coming to work at the salon downstairs which my apartment is attached to.
How are we supposed to crush racism when we don't stand up and confront it? This is an opportunity for me to do so, yet I'm going to avoid that conflict and it feels nothing short of cowardly. I hate being in this position. I should have said something.