The Cold Hard Truth
By J.L. Chestnut, Jr.
Vol. 10, No. 2, 1988, p. 32
MOTHER: Child, I told you all your life that white folks is trouble. Treat them right but keep your distance.
DAUGHTER: But, Momma Jean, I didn’t do nothing wrong. I told the lady she didn’t give me the right change and she called me a liar. And, I told her she was one.
MOTHER: You didn’t have to say that! Did she, Lawyer Chestnut?
CHESTNUT: Well, maybe she thought she had to say it. In terms of why you came to see me, it hardly matters. Her generation feels compelled to say many things we felt compelled not to say. The world is somewhat different these days.
MOTHER: Yes, Jesus, the Bible says the world would grow weaker but wiser. And, I have seen it. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in voting, and the Lord knows I believed in Dr. King. But there is some crazy, mixed-up white folk who is dangerous. I want my child to be safe.
DAUGHTER: But, Momma, right is right. Why should I respect some fool who is going out of her way to disrespect me? If I do that, Momma Jean, I don’t respect me.
MOTHER: You shut your mouth, child! Don’t you be calling nobody a fool! You don’t know the world the way I do. It is better to go around trouble than go asking somebody for it. I have taken more abuse and suffered so long, only God understands. And, I did it, child, cause I wanted to stay in this world long enough to raise you right. I don’t want nobody to run over you or treat you wrong, but black folks is got to be careful. The world is not right. Justice is as white as them judges, big shot law people and fancy pants. But, you ain’t God, child, and it is not for you to set white folks right. I wonder about some black folks who are so mean to other black folks they think is beneath them. It is the devil! Child, it is not for you, by yourself, to attack the devil in his element. God said, “Vengeance is mine!” We need to be careful. It is better for that white woman to keep that little money than for us to get all mixed up with the police and have to come bothering Lawyer Chestnut.
DAUGHTER: We are not bothering Lawyer Chestnut. We are his clients. It is his business to straighten these things out.
MOTHER: I knowed Lawyer Chestnut when his Momma was carrying him. Don’t tell me nothing bout no client. Lawyer Chestnut got real business and no time to be bothered with a mess you didn’t even have to get yourself in.
CHESTNUT: Well, Mrs. (Blank), I want you to come see my anytime you think I can be helpful. I would be disappointed if you didn’t call or come by. Now, these things do happen. And, I quite understand everything you say and recognize the wisdom of your words. I think, however, because I have to deal with these young people all the time, I may understand somewhat the point your daughter is trying to make.
MOTHER: She ain’t got no point!
CHESTNUT: Well, maybe so and maybe not. Let’s look at it this way. The saleslady called your daughter a liar and your daughter returned the accusation. You and I can agree that at that point they were both wrong and not acting like decent people. The saleslady is grown and you and I can agree that being grown she had a Christian responsibility to act like a lady, especially in the presence of your daughter. Now, your daughter is certain the saleslady was motivated by racism. You and I would think that is probably the case, but wouldn’t draw that flat conclusion without knowing the lady or at least having witnessed the incident. But, let’s just suppose it was racism. In that case, your daughter was merely responding to Dr. King’s message about not becoming part of the problem and standing up to prejudice. That is what I meant about the world has changed. There are new things you and I now have to accept, just as we accepted the old things.
MOTHER: Glory be, Lawyer Chest! This is a dangerous world. But, you know more about it than I do. You take care of my child. And tell your Momma I will be to see her after the church revival ends. I have some talk for her.
J. L. Chestnut is an Alabama trial lawyer and writer.