WASHINGTON – When Jason White walked into Busboys and Poets Monday morning, a Washington restaurant that promotes social justice, he looked around and told his friend he might want to remove his red “Make America Great Again” cap.
The three white Texan men knew they stuck out in a place where African-American art and images cover the walls. And White said he could sense when his waitress greeted them that she knew they did too.
But Rosalynd Harris had arrived at work that morning still high off the energy from the Women’s March. Her customers Saturday had been abuzz with an optimism that was contagious.
So she was especially cheery when she greeted White and his two friends. They chatted warmly. They told her they were from west Texas. White is a dentist and he complimented her on her smile. They were jovial and fun.
Harris admits that White was right. She did prejudge them, by instantly assuming they were in town for President Donald Trump’s inauguration by appearance alone, even though by that point the signature red baseball cap had been tucked away.
When the men finished their meals White decided to leave Harris, a 25-year-old African American woman, a personal message on the receipt. Then, after he wrote it, he left a $450 tip on their $72.60 bill, which is a nearly 625 percent tip.
“We may come from different cultures and may disagree on certain issues, but if everyone would share their smile and kindness like your beautiful smile, our country will come together as one people,” the note reads. “Not race. Not gender. Just American.” Then he added, “God Bless!”
The $450 was a nod to Trump, the 45th president, White said in an interview, as a symbolic gesture that he hoped everyone could move forward together.
White, 37, didn’t even tell his friends what he’d done. But he’d felt so moved by all he’d seen in Washington that weekend. A Trump supporter from the very beginning, he said that he believed Trump would infuse the government with new leadership and a new mindset. A devout Christian, he doesn’t agree with all of Trump’s rhetoric, but said he believes that the president sometimes speaks without thinking first.
Being in Washington for Trump’s inauguration and then witnessing the Women’s March the next day, White felt both events represented the very foundation of what it means to be an American. On Saturday he and his friends went to Arlington Cemetery and he said he was so moved watching the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, thinking about how they perform the same 21-step tradition regardless of politics or who the president is.
“We have to think about being better Americans, we have to look into ourselves and how we treat one another,” he said. “If everyone did a little something to show respect. . .we can love one another.”
The men were gone before Harris saw the receipt. She read White’s words before she saw the tip, and the words alone were enough to overwhelm her.
“You automatically assume if someone supports Trump that they have ideas about you,” she said, “but [the customer was] more embracing than even some of my more liberal friends, and there was a real authenticity in our exchange.”
The windfall also came at a time when Harris could really use it, she said. A professional dancer, she started waitressing about a year-and-a-half ago to make extra money to pay her bills. She needs to move to a new apartment soon and has worried about how she’ll have enough cash to pay any upfront costs. She scheduled herself to work extra shifts to ensure she had enough, and the extra $450 is “a huge weight off my shoulders,” she said.
But she said the men left her with so much more. Their words were a reminder not to make assumptions. And that so many Americans want unity, regardless of their politics, and to not be afraid to connect with someone as human beings, she said.
“This definitely reshaped my perspective. Republican, Democrat, liberal are all subcategories to what we are experiencing,” she said. “It instills a lot of hope.”
For White, he said he wanted to show her that they probably have more in common than it would appear.
“As I sat there I thought about the entire weekend and I thought I don’t know her, she doesn’t know me, but if most Americans have a preconceived perception about people then we’re never going to get better,” he said.