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'I Want To Understand People': A One Small Step Conversation

Nathan Cone
For StoryCorps
Alyssa Burgin and Lamont Jefferson in the TPR studios.

“I was really very much interested in why people thought the way they did, as opposed to being offended or reacting in some way when someone said something that others might find offensive,” explained Lamont Jefferson at his StoryCorps One Small Step interview.

Jefferson, a 60-year-old who self identifies as conservative, was paired with Alyssa Burgin, 66, a liberal who grew up on San Antonio’s south side.

Both recognize the need to look behind words and actions to try to understand others.

Read a transcript of their conversation below.

Alyssa: When I was a child living here in San Antonio--I'm a product of the South Side--my parents looked Latino, and when I'd go shopping with my mother after she got off work, people would come up to me and ask me to translate for my mother. They assumed I was the cute little blonde girl and that my mother was the maid. I was so upset by that. My mother, not so much, but I was. And it was difficult to overcome because I, I know that I held that against people. But as I've gotten older, I realized that we all have incorrect characterizations of people and that we kind of just need to sit back and think about why we're making those stereotypes and-- and get to know enough people so that you find out they aren't true.

Lamont: And when you said that you're no longer offended, and some would be offended for you, or some words to that effect, examples come to mind where someone says something either to me or in my presence, and others immediately look to see my reaction. That--that should be offensive to a black man. And I'm just not offended! I find it curious. I was participating in a golf tournament. Nice, private country club. And I check in and they send me to the to the grill where you get your burger and I go on, I'm standing in line at the grill--and I swear this happened-- this nice lady, obviously from the club, and obviously a member, walks up to me and said, "Uh, you need to wait until the golfers have eaten." And I was like, "Ma'am, I am a golfer." And of course, there are all these other people in line who are sitting there watching this encounter. And they're like, "What? What's he gonna say?" Well, I thought that was the end of the conversation!

Alyssa: Pretty much.

Lamont: But it apparently had some legs. And we, had to [be] like, "Don't worry about it," I mean, she thought I wasn't a golfer! And if I wasn't a golfer, I shouldn't have been in line. That's all there is to it!

Alyssa: I can understand why people would be offended on your behalf. Yes.

Lamont: Which is fine, although I feel like some responsibility to take some action when those things occur and I-- or at least some expectation, I feel that the burden of an expectation that you should do something or say something, you shouldn't allow this to go unresolved, or unchalleged.

Alyssa: The world has moved on. Yes. So, yes, exactly. That's unfortunate.

Lamont: Well, but I don't..but at that same time, I don't want to react! I mean, I'd like to just kind of observe. I don't mind Confederate flags on pickup trucks, or in backyards. I mean, I want to understand people. I want... if they feel that way, fine.

Alyssa: I do agree with you on that. I want to understand people, I want to know why they take this emblem, whatever it might be, and how they utilize it, or in some cases how they hide behind it. I think we can probably agree that right now, more than any other time in history, things are complicated.

Lamont: Yeah, I don't know about more than any other time in history, but I agree with you that they are complicated.

Alyssa: They are complicated.

Lamont: Yeah. And it's hard to... And once you start labeling things, they appear more simple than they really are.

Alyssa:  ...Than they really are, exactly. That's very true.

Alyssa Burgin and Lamont Jefferson’s full “One Small Step” conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.

“One Small Step” on Texas Public Radio is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional support is provided by Monterrey Iron & Metal.