When We Assume, We Make An Ass Out of John From Arkansas

In a very unorthodox move at the hotel last night, a man named John from Arkansas surprised us by joining the small table shared by me and a colleague at the manager’s reception at Embassy Suites despite the fact that there were plenty of other unoccupied tables available.

It seems that he was also a frequent business traveler who was traveling solo this week and just desperate enough for some company that joining two strangers for drinks was his remedy for loneliness. Always up for a new experience and usually up for hearing the stories of a potentially unusual character, neither one of us minded that he was there and, in fact, welcomed him to our table.

He had one normal eye and one googly eye (that made it hard to look away from), a slow and thick Southern accent and he was wearing cowboy boots, but overall, seemed like a normal enough guy and became fully engaged in our discussions about work, cars and business travel.

At several points in the conversation, this Southern stranger brought up topics that seemed to have racist undertones but they were barely detectable and I wasn’t sure enough of how the conversation was playing out to proclaim that I do not share those feelings in any way. But in hindsight, it should have been more clear to me when he’d say something and then pause for my reaction with an idiot grin on his face as if he were waiting on me to grant permission to open the floodgates.

None of his comments were egregious enough to completely confirm my suspicions, and as a result, I felt like my mind was playing tricks on me. But soon after, things became more apparent when he issued the racist disclaimer (“I’m not a racist, but…”).

It was clear by then that it was time to depart for dinner and that John, the self-proclaimed non-racist, would most definitely not make the cut to receive a dinner invitation. I may be a white male from Kentucky, but my geographic location and the incorrect stereotypes about the Commonwealth don’t define me, which can often make it difficult for someone to look at me and make correct assumptions about my viewpoints on things.

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