Pizza and Racism (Part 1)

I am going to begin an ongoing discussion of how my experiences as a pizza delivery driver have further opened my eyes to cultural differences between races and the great difficulty various races have understanding each other. Obviously this will be a sensitive issue, and I’m not claiming to be free of prejudices or stereotyping, but I want to have an open conversation about the danger of assuming people either are, or are not, just like us.

A couple weeks ago, as I approached a front porch, a black customer said, “I hear you don’t like delivering to black people.” Internally hesitating, but externally displaying confidence, I replied cordially, “Sir, that is not true.” “Good answer!” he replied. During the exchange, which included an inquiry of how I would respond if he pointed a pistol at me, it was quite clear that this man was 100% cognizant of the stereotypes borne by black customers. He amiably gave me a hard time.  He gave me a modest tip, thanked me, and then yelled (in jest), “I better not have this much trouble next time!”

In retrospect, I’m not sure how truthfully I responded to his original question. It partially depends on what he meant by “you”. If he meant pizza drivers in generally, I probably lied. Drivers do assume they will get a poor tip, or none at all, in communities that are predominantly black. They also assume if they go far enough east, they’re going to get a good tip from a rich, white customer. What often surprises me is how comfortable we are talking about this discrimination as if it is just part of the job.

Yet none of us have done any statistical analysis for tipping habits across racial demographics. I have received many good tips from African American customers, and gotten stiffed by plenty of white people in gated subdivisions. Yet we allow our prejudices to remember the only the good tips from people who look like us, and all the bad tips from people who don’t.

How should a member of a Kingdom –where there are no distinctions between Jews and Greeks, Slaves and Free, Whites and Blacks, Poor and Rich– live and serve and work? I have a suspicion that when Jesus fed the five thousand, he didn’t feed people in the order of how much they would contribute to his ministry.

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