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Monday, February 28, 2005

Race

I think about race a lot. Every day I am confronted with it.

I've never been in such a position before, working with an even mix of black and white people. I've never lived in a place with an even mix. In Chicago, the mix was international. I heard different languages every day. If I ever saw a black person in my neighborhood, I was surprised, because that area was primarily Eastern European, Hispanic, or yuppie white. Unless I was in the South Side, I never went anyplace that was primarily black. And that was once, when CTA insisted the fastest way to Midway was the Red Line straight south, then a bus across the South Side to the airport. (For future reference, it is most definitely not the fastest route.) But it was the most interesting. I watched the train thin out and become completely populated with blacks. By the time we reached the bus station, I was the only white person in the crowd.

When I was a kid, my parents were friends with the sole black woman in town. She had two kids; Hans was in my class, and I didn't like him because he wet his pants in kindergarten. But Hans had a brother a year older, and I worshipped him because he was the fastest runner in our school (grades K-2).

I guess because my parents were friends with their mom, and they didn't make a big deal out of it, it didn't dawn on me that the family was different than us. My parents never said a word about race. So was it my own inner morals that cringed every time (and frequently) I'd hear a racial slur from classmates growing up? I don't know. Somehow I just knew it was wrong. But I wonder sometimes if I tell that story about Hans and his family to show off that I Am Of Course Not Racist (what with my token black childhood friend and all)?

(In this context, at least, it is Just A Story About My Childhood.)

We have interns from a local hospital who take turns volunteering for our medical clinic at work. They work in 4-week rotations. The current doc is kind of bitchy. The first time she was here, one of my co-workers, K, gave her a tour, and the doctor was pretty standoffish and unfriendly. K was talking about her being bitchy, and said, gesturing to another black co-worker, "I think maybe she doesn't like us." I wondered if that was her automatic reaction when whites weren't friendly to her. (I was rather pleased, and, well, annoyed, when the doctor treated me with the same rudeness as she had K.)

Tim says yes. That it's the same reaction he has when a black person doesn't like him.

One of my co-workers--I don't think she likes me that much. It's just a feeling I get. It never occurred to me that she might not like me simply because my skin color, though. I assume that it has to do with my personality. Is that incredibly naive, or innocently blissful of race issues? Insecure about my own personality enough to not think about anything else? (I am fairly proud of myself for not catering to her or bending over backwards to get her to like me. I am who I am.)

I have lunch often at Subway in a section of town where I am often the only white person in the store. I say, "yes, ma'am" and "thank you," and keep my head down. But that's the way I behave no matter where I go in this town, because I'm not entirely comfortable anywhere here. And I'm not generally a rude person. But I wonder if I'm extra polite in an all-black establishment because I'm constantly aware of being the lone white? And am I trying to overcompensate so they don't hate me, or are rude to me? Am I trying to blend in so I don't insult anyone with my mere presence?

My preoccupation with it both bothers and intrigues me. I worry that I am secretly racist. I know that I probably am, in ways I don't even realize or could never even articulate. So I don't stop going there. I like living through uncertainty and not being entirely comfortable. I think I am learning so much about myself and the world here.

2 Comments:

Blogger Amy said...

My town is very segregated too. I worked in a predominately black neighborhood so I would interact with them all day. Then I would go home and live the rest of my life without seeing another person of color at the post office, supermarket, movie theater, etc.

I struggle with this because I want Carson to be exposed to different races and cultures, but how? Especially when I can't even do it.

10:12 AM  
Blogger metrogeekboy said...

A hard thing to acknowledge...being uncomfortable with the race issue. I like your candid thoughts on the matter. I think we still all live in fear. Blacks because of years of bigotry, subtle or not. Whites because of our history as slave owners. It amazes me how history still grips us. If we wipe the slate clean, live just in the present, maybe so much of our "paranoia" both from blacks and whites would be erased too. Just another example how cultural history impacts us on an individual level daily...without our say in the matter.
Living in the south doesn't help a bit. I find myself too sometimes being overly friendly in all black establishments just to let them know I'm not on the "dark side" of white.

12:32 PM  

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