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White like me

I was lunching at Mrs Rigby's Diner a few days ago, and heard this exchange from the booth behind me, after a man ordered his breakfast. French toast, side of sausage, orange juice.

Cranky Old Fart
#215

Saturday,
Oct. 22, 2022

And then he asked the waitress, "What's your name?"

"Mary Ann," she said. 

"I'm James," he said.

"Thank you, James," she said, and walked away.

There are no name tags at Mrs Rigby's, but I've never asked an employee's name. Nor have I ever volunteered my own name. What's the point of that? You're bringing me breakfast and I'll pay you afterwards, but we're not gonna be buddies. 

There was no big dramatic incident that triggered this. I simply got onto a bus, and sat a few rows behind an old black man on the bus, stared at the back of his graying head as we rolled along, and wondered about his life. 

He looked about my age, a little pudgy but not as fat as me, and I asked myself the metaphysical what-if question: What would my life have been, if I'd been black?

Give me the same middle-class parents, but they're black. Gotta ignore, of course, the fact that very, very few black men had the kind of white-collar engineering job my father had in the 1950s, so very, very few black families had anything approaching the suburban opulence of our house, our neighborhood, even the public schools I attended.

There was no explicit segregation in Seattle, at that time and to my knowledge, but there was redlining, tradition, and there were many places where you simply never saw black people.

There was one black kid in my grade school, and I don't mean one kid in my class, I mean one black kid in the entire school. There were lots more black kids in junior high, and hundreds in my high school. I have no idea what nudged that quick demographic shift in the 1970s, but from my experience the black kids who beat me up were no more and no less obnoxious than the white kids who beat me up. Equality is the ideal, right?

After dropping out of high school, I simply lied on job applications, said I was a high school graduate, and nobody ever checked or challenged me on it. Could a black man tell that lie and get away with it?

Seems reasonable to wonder if black me would've been hired for my first grown-up job, in the all-white office of a high-priced medical clinic, in the late-1970s. Seems likely that a mid-30s black man would've encountered more difficulties than I did, when I packed everything into my van and moved to San Francisco, knowing nobody there. Seems very doubtful that I could've made a living doing odd jobs for complete strangers, like I did in the 1990s, if I'd been black. Et cetera, et cetera.

When I went to protests, I saw cops target the black guys, but they didn't swing their billy clubs at me. Once, a cop pulled me over for having the wrong color taillights, though actually it was because of my bumper stickers, and we had a loud, heated argument, but he didn't arrest me, didn't even write me a ticket. Would a black man be allowed to drive away after that?

I've always been this "fuck off and leave me alone" guy, usually quiet but quick with the smartass remark, and I don't think black me could've gotten away with that, all these years, all my life. There've been too many little moments that could've easily played out much more unpleasantly if I'd been an obnoxious fat black man.

I'm so white, I almost never have these thoughts about my white privilege. Mighty rare that I think about it long and deep enough to write even a few shallow paragraphs like this. Even that I think about it so rarely is telling.

They're building a new neighborhood of overpriced, oversize houses down the street, and the bus stop is right in front of the "model house" for the development. A while back, I had wondered here about a small circle of cement they'd poured beside the model house.

Turns out it's going to be a very tiny park, with one odd but not ugly thing kids can climb up, and two slides coming down from the odd and ugly.

Today I stopped and looked at this micro-park for the first time, really, since the equipment was installed, and noticed that if/when kids ever play on this odd and ugly thing, when they come down the slides they'll be dumped onto hard asphalt.

When I was a kid, slides came down to grass or dirt, not frickin' asphalt. It's a private park, probably they'll add a fence to keep out anyone who doesn't live in the development, and I guess skinned kneecaps will be the price of admission. 

 
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Tommy Lasorda assaults the Philly Phanatic 

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♫♬  Mix tape of my mind  ♫

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The End

Ivy Jo Hunter
Bruno Latour 

10/22/2022   

Cranky Old Fart is annoyed and complains and very occasionally offers a kindness, along with anything off the internet that's made me smile or snarl. All opinions fresh from my ass. Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.
 
Tip 'o the hat to Linden Arden, ye olde AVA, BoingBoing, Breakfast at Ralf's, Captain Hampockets, CaptCreate's Log, John the Basket, LiarTownUSA, Meme City, National Zero, Ran Prieur, Voenix Rising, and anyone else whose work I've stolen without saying thanks.
 
Extra special thanks to Becky Jo, Name Withheld, Dave S, Wynn Bruce, and always Stephanie...

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing about race. We think we hear about race in America all the time, but we don't. Just a couple of clarifications:

    1) >There was no explicit segregation in Seattle to my knowledge, but there was redlining . . .

    Redlining is pretty explicit segregation. It separates children in schools and adults in neighborhoods. There were bars all over Seattle by 1965, but exactly 1 in Niggertown (you know the approximate coordinates). The planning commission didn't want Negros to get too tipsy in public.

    > I have no idea what nudged that quick demographic shift in the 1970s . . .

    1970 was the year that the FDIC started auditing for compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Banks which didn't statistically treat Black families the same as white families with regard to geographical home ownership were fined and re-audited starting in 1970. I worked at a bank. It's a big deal and can affect a bank's credit rating.

    Not corrections, just addenda. Thanks again.

    jtb

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bars were not allowed, eh? I only have memories, no facts, but despite living in the suburbs my family's church was on the edge of Seattle's blackest neighborhood, and on our Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening drives into church, I don't remember any bars along Rainier Avenue... There were a thousand cheap restaurants, and maybe they served beer discreetly in those places, but no taverns, bars, saloons, etc.

      So strange that I never noticed that until you said it. Pioneer Square was all bars on every street, but none in the Valley.

      A question for the factsman: In 1970, Republicans were in charge nationally, right? Why would FDIC start doing the right thing under Republicans?

      Delete
    2. Lawsuits.

      jtb

      Delete
    3. That's what it takes to make Republicans do the right thing -- a lawsuit they lose. It's why they're so intent on taking over the courts.

      Delete
  2. The two things my friend Tom, a lifelong east-coast NJ-NYC resident, told me after he visited Seattle for the first time was that the city was extremely clean and small and that there were no black people to be found. In his NJ hometown, there has always been a notable black population and many are well-heeled professionals while others barely survive like most service-industry folks these days. So, it was an immediate shock to his core, as odd as a town with no children or no teenagers, or a town with no Asian people. Or Italians. Or... We both agreed there HAD to be black folks somewhere in Seattle, just not in the areas he had toured.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Come to Rainier Valley, I guess. There are black folks everywhere in the city, but they generally stand out in a crowd. In Rainier Valley they're more likely the crowd.

      And I'm sure it's just a coincidence, but when Seattle belatedly started building its light rail network, the tracks were in tunnels underground or on stilts high above ground almost everywhere, except... guess where?

      Rainier Valley. So that's where the trains keep running into and over people. Burying or raising the tracks is safer, but expensive, and some neighborhoods don't warrant the expense of safety, apparently.

      Delete

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