My father was very fond of Lamine, who washed the pots in Tain Lee Chow for a period of time. Lamine was a gentle dark black young man from Senegal. He was bright and inquisitive. My father loved saying his name, enjoyed talking to Lamine. Lamine picked up a lot of English from his conversations with my father.
One story my father told more than once was about the time the police picked Lamine up a few blocks from the restaurant and beat the shit out of him. He made his one call to Mr. Irv who rushed over to the precinct and picked him up.
“Why they beat me, Mr. Irv?” he asked my father afterwards. My father found this simple question very poignant. It was. I don’t remember how he explained to Lamine the crime of walking through a middle class white neighborhood while being black. It is one of those conversations I can only imagine, and it is as hazy as a mumble from the beyond during a seance.
Did Irv, who was on his way to panic selling his home because he’d seen several blacks walking in the neighborhood, give him the historical explanation he would have given years earlier? Was my father more the principled integrationist or the knee jerk racial realist of his later years when he answered Lamine?
I suspect he gave Lamine a thoughtful answer about racism, possibly explaining the difference between de jure and de facto racism as he’d explained it to me decades earlier. He would have given Lamine a compassionate answer, I know that. Whether they are beating the shit out of you because the law says they can, or just because they can, makes little difference when you’re getting the shit beat out of you. My father understood that as well as anyone, better than most.