Race and the election have been on my mind of late, especially after having a drink with a journalist friend who has spent the last week attending a dozen naturalization ceremonies for a story about immigration. I don't know if the following anecdote fits well into modern-day conversations about race, but it struck a chord for me.

I was in the checkout line at a convenience store the other day. Two loud and obese women were having trouble finding money to pay for their items. The unimpressed checkout clerk stood waiting. Then one of the women noticed her name tag--Bathule--and asked where she was from.

"Ethiopia," she said.

"Oh cool," the two women said.

When they left, I looked at Bathule as if to commiserate, more about the time they took to get organized than about their attempt at small talk.

"America has all kinds of people," she said. She was annoyed, and although I want to give the women the benefit of the doubt, imagining that they were genuinely interested in the origins of an unfamiliar and pretty name, I suspect Bathule was correctly touching on something less positive: that these women weren't interested in her name, but rather a vague sense of foreignness.

It was Bill Clinton, Bathule continued, "who once said: 'We are all immigrants.'" The she bagged my purchases and I left.
AuthorDavid Wolman