A few months back, I took my 9-year-old to a new friend’s birthday party at Dave and Busters (a national restaurant/arcade/sports bar chain), where I knew none of the other guests. I was dragging a bit so when Son sat down at the party table, I excused myself and slipped out to grab some coffee at Starbucks next door. Thanks to D&B’s “NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINKS” policy, I was detained at the door from reentering until I finished downing my scalding hot coffee.
By the time I returned to the party, the kids had already eaten and scrambled out of the dining room into the large arcade area, and only a few adults remained. Suddenly, it dawned on me that all the African-American parents were sitting at one table and the Asian-Americans at another. And I thought, “That’s not cool. People should learn to mingle more.” So I walked across the room and introduced myself to each person at the table, sat down and started chatting them up, eating and laughing with them. But halfway through my merry meal, I looked up and noticed a second birthday cake in the corner of the room with a different child’s name on it — “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREVON!” I thought I’d die then and there.
Mortified, I asked, with my tummy half-full, and my mouth still full, of their food, “Oh my God, are there two parties going on in this room?” (brief pause) Then they, I, we all busted up laughing. One of them chuckled, “Oh, we just thought you were the cutest, friendliest thing comin’ over here and hangin’ with us instead of your own party.” I’m pretty sure my yellow skin turned red real quick as I apologized profusely and repeatedly. (If you knew me well, you’d know that something like this could only happen to me.)
Throughout the rest of that day, I kept breaking into laughter, replaying the scene in my head and wondering what in the world those folks must have thought of me. But looking back on it all now, I realize I shouldn’t feel shame. After all, my naive imposition was just me trying to do my small part in blurring some of the race lines and taking down some of those walls of fear and unfamiliarity that keep us from stepping outside “our comfort zones” and putting love for “others” in action. And those “others” were equally commendable, because they didn’t make me feel like an outsider, an intruder, an unwanted guest at their table. They let me eat with them, laugh with them, sit with them. That right there? That wasn’t a social blunder; it was a social triumph. And I’m pretty sure Someone smiled down at us all that day…and probably chuckled a little too.