So I'm in South Central Los Angeles recruiting cannabis social equity applicants to partner with ONE Cannabis as we prepare to submit applications for social equity licenses. If you don't know what that is, you can learn more on my previous blogs. If you don't know where south central LA is, it's the inner city of LA. It's pretty much ground zero for the War on Drugs and the movie set for most every gangster related movie from "Boyz N The Hood" to "Straight Outa Compton". It's the real deal.
It's also where I receive an education on bias and prejudice on a daily basis - an education I never really knew I needed, but no one ever really believes they do.
It’s also a two way street as most of the applicants I meet don't know many, if any Jews. I’m definitely the first rabbi most have met. There’s genuine interest, affection and growth - lots of growth - in every encounter. One day I'll write a book on it, and be assured, it will be filled with revelations and inspirations, faux pas and outright idiotic, can't-make-this-stuff-up-if-you-tried moments and mistakes - like this one….
After a long day of interviewing applicants I'm ready to head back to my hotel. This is my fifth or sixth visit so I know the drill. I'll call an Uber, wait outside (cautiously) and invariably the Uber driver will show up and say something like, "you aren't from here are you?" The stereotypes (albeit true this time) cut both ways.
This time, as I'm waiting for the Uber, I can hear it before I can see it. Swerving around the corner, with base thumping and driver pumping, a pimped out Honda arrives. As the car gets closer I can see a young Hispanic guy with quite a few tattoos. That's all I "know," but that's all I need to know to start formulating a story in my head. Here’s the story plot line so far:
Young Hispanic kid
Likes pimped out Honda’s, loud rap music and serious tatts
And it’s pretty clear, he’s not the most serious, nor the most professional Uber driver I’ve ever met - this is gonna be one noisy ride.
At least that's the story that's going through my head.
So, I get into the car and the moment I do, all my preconceptions turn into misconceptions, none of which turn out to be true.
The only thing that's loud is the noise in my head, not the sounds from his stereo. The music is off even before I get in. He's thoughtful, not rude.
He's not Hispanic, he's Latino (from Brazil, and yes white people, there is a difference).
He's not a kid. He's in his thirties working two jobs to take care of his wife and kids.
He's courteous, not unprofessional, as he asks if I'd mind if he turns back up the music. “Or,” he says, “I have some magazines back there for you if you’d prefer to read.” The magazines, by the way, were Psychology Today and another on mindfulness practice (ya, I’m feeling like a real shmuck today).
"OK," I think to myself. "I was wrong about the first couple of assumptions, but I was right about loud rap music - just wait, here it comes."
And just like that, every one of my assumptions was wrong. He's a big fan not of Grand Master Flash but Grand Master Beethoven, not Sir Mix-a-Lot, but Sir Mozart.
"Do you mind if we listen to classical?" he politely asks. “Honestly,” I say, “I’m more O.G. rap (which I am - regardless of the story you are telling yourself about me!). “But I could use an education. Who are we listening to?”
And just like that, I went from shmuck to student and we went from strangers to friends.
People are complex. People are unique. People are people and deserve to be judged on who they are, not what they look like, the music they listen to, the car they drive or the magazines they do or don’t read. Certainly people are not the stories we tell ourselves about them. In fact, the only thing those story reveal is who we are, not who they are or who we think they ought to be.
Just another day in the Hood where I'm receiving a whole new type of education about preconceptions and misconceptions and stereotypes coming through loud and clear on the stereo.