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I maintain a certain amount of authority while serving in my little, rural municipality.  My office is my castle and if I don't like your language, or if I'm threatened, or if I'm insulted, I'll simply throw you out.

It doesn't happen often.  I work for a truly caring, generous and mostly respectful community.  But every now and then racism rears its head, or a finger gets pointed perilously close to my face, or the business becomes entangled with the personal.  You will not use the n-word in my office, or complain about "those" people implying all kinds of stereotypical traits depending on where in the world the neighbors you are complaining about came from, or suggest that I can [insert verb] with my [insert noun].  You will be locked out.

So, years ago, when the old geezer came stomping into my office with all manner of righteous indignation and fury, I stood.  As a woman, I've found that being seated is a disadvantage when facing anger.  He demanded to know why I would allow them to bus kids in from a neighboring municipality to play basketball at our township park.  

Seriously?

I knew the kids playing B-Ball that afternoon.  And that's when I made my big mistake.  I assumed he was a racist.  The kids were mostly black...and brown and tan.  My son was among them.

I needed to make him come clean before I could justify tossing his sorry old butt out the door.  "Why do you think they are being bused in?"  

"Because my family has been here for generations and I've never seen these ones before."

"Did you actually see the bus?  What makes you think they are from __ (the name of the neighboring municipality isn't relevant)?"

"Nope.  Didn't see the bus.  But I've never seen these ones here before."

I was about to become stern when I realized this particular old geezer wasn't shaking with fury - more like shaking with old age.  "Sir," I said quietly, "you are wrong."

His eyes opened wide.  He obviously wasn't accustomed to being corrected.

"Those are our kids over there.  One of them is my own son," I said.

He had to think about this for a moment.  "Those are our kids?"

"Yup.   We don't have any public transportation here and we're a big township.  They can only pool rides to meet there to play basketball once or twice a week.  They're mostly sophomores in high school and I can vouch for every single one of them."

He was still stunned.  "Those are our kids?"

"Yes, Sir."

He sat down and thought about this for several additional moments.  "Our kids, huh!"  

I don't think he had even thought about their race.  We talked for several more minutes, and I never got even an inkling that his concerns were about skin color, race, ethnicity, religion or any other type of bias.  I couldn't tell if he was more upset that he didn't know these kids, or that he had, himself, wrongly accused them of the terrible sin of being from out of town.  He actually had me point out where some of these distant subdivisions were that forced them to car pool to the park.

He was mad that kids he didn't know, perhaps kids from another municipality, were taking advantage of our park.  It wasn't about race.  It was about territory.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was a public park, and it really didn't matter where they were from.  He got up to leave and I realized the shaking was, for sure, old age.  Then he stopped at the door and turned back to me.  "They're really good at basketball," he said.

And something told me he was on his way back to the park to bet - on the shirts or the skins - whichever.

I'm still forced to have people removed from my office on occasion.  But very rarely now.  I suppose word about my level of tolerance for certain behavior has made the rounds.  

But oh, how I do love being wrong.

Originally posted to santas on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 12:50 PM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Interesting premise - and mobility plays a part. (14+ / 0-)

    Pew Research has done some really good stuff on mobility in America...and I'm wondering if it contributes to the 'territorial' reaction you described.

    Their 2008 study found that:

    More than six-in-ten adults (63%) have moved to a new community at least once in their lives, while 37% have never left their hometowns.

    Most adults (57%) have not lived outside their current home state in the U.S. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 15% have lived in four or more states.

    The overall percentage of Americans changing locations in any given year has steadily declined since the 1950s.

    I wonder how this decline in mobility has increased the territorialism you encountered.  I certainly saw a healthy dose of it in rural Kentucky, where I was raised, and I still see elements of it today in everything from business development to community relations.

    Oh, and I applaud your discernment; I'm always happy to see instances in which racism is no longer the first thing that comes to mind.

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 01:14:28 PM PDT

    •  Or lack thereof (9+ / 0-)

      I agree mobility has a great deal to do with it - or lack thereof.  Northeast Pennsylvania was settled generations ago and most folks never left.  I wish more studies could be done about the culture shock of post 9/11 when so many people escaped NY and NJ and settled here.  It wasn't just race - people here were suddenly exposed to accents and cultures and practices they had previously only seen on TV.  I think in the beginning it was the worst in the public schools - out of fear or parental influence or whatever.  Now, a dozen years later those kids are gone.  And the children now are teaching the adults about tolerance, and curiosity, and celebration.  They're even reminding us how to be neighborly again.

    •  really interesting (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oh Mary Oh

      i'd have presumed a lot more mobility.

      But then like most I'm biased by personal experience, having lived in 9 states myself, 5 of them for more than 2 years each.

      47 is the new 51!

      by nickrud on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 06:12:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm part of that 15% (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rogneid, Oh Mary Oh

      I've lived in more than 4 states.

      Hmmm, I didn't think I was that well traveled because I haven't gone overseas. Little did I know.



      Women create the entire labor force.
      ---------------------------------------------
      Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

      by splashy on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 06:34:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Your diary has made me think of the issue (8+ / 0-)

    of what is racism and what is pragmatic behavior.

    I am 58 years old and grew up in Chicago, the most segregated big city in the U.S.  The neighborhood that I lived in until I was 15 was working class white, half Jewish and half Catholic.  The housing was cheap post-WWII duplexes.

    When I was about 10 years old, the blockbusting began, and the neighborhood became a white-flight area.  Within about 4 years, it was almost completely black.  I was never taught racism, and befriended the African American kids who lived near me.

    The thing is, the white families who stayed until the area was mainly black lost most of the value of their homes.  This raises the question: Were the families that moved quickly racist, or simply protecting their finances?  I don't think there is a simple answer.

    Another situation I confronted occurred when I was a young adult, and a professional musician.  In those days (the late 70s and early 80s), if a band had more than one black member, many nightclubs would not hire the band, because they did not want to attract a black crowd.  Because I needed to make a living, the bands that I put together were white or mainly white.  I always felt badly about having to do this, but had no choice if I wanted to work.  

    Don't get me wrong: I know that racism is still alive and well in this country.  I am of Jewish heritage, and there is still plenty of anti-semitism.  I think the bigotry I have experienced must be minor compared to that of any black person in America.

    I think, however, that some behavior is motivated by practical considerations rather than racism.

    •  lets be honest here (3+ / 0-)

      It seems we're talking of a practical accommodation of racism.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing anyone of conscious racist intent, but accommodation is what it sounds like to me.

      I also don't have an answer that would fit all situations. I've also been kinda lucky, in a twisted wa,y since I've always been pretty asset free and single. I've not had something I needed to protect from the tide.

      47 is the new 51!

      by nickrud on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 06:20:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  bah. mobile devices suck for commenting. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Oh Mary Oh

        47 is the new 51!

        by nickrud on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 06:21:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The conditions that make these choices necessary (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        claude, Mikey, Ahianne, TexasTom

        are the result of racism, but people have to live in the world as it exists, not how they would like it to be.

        In my case, in my early 20s I had a choice of not being a musician, or working with mainly white people.  I suppose I could have chosen to not play music in protest, but what would that have accomplished.

        I certainly don't consider myself a racist.  I have lived in integrated areas for much of my life, shared an apartment with an African American man for a year and a half, and truly enjoy being among black people.

        Things are much better now than they were when I was in that situation (35 years ago).  I hope the time comes when such choices are never necessary.

        •  I mean (4+ / 0-)

          I think this is why it's important to think of racism as more than just a set of individual biases, hatreds, and prejudices.  You can ignore a bunch of jerks, the problem is the significant power that those jerks are able to wield.

          If you're white - and I am - it is often actively difficult to avoid being the beneficiary of a racist system, and to avoid actions which passively perpetuate it.  And as your example shows, there's usually a significant personal cost, and the societal benefit is minimal - it's not like those clubs were going to change their policies because of you, right?  They'd find other white people, they wouldn't hire your mixed-race band.

          It's easy to target racism when it's someone screaming the n-word at a comedy club.  But that's only the skin of the apple.

          •  Sorry, but (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Mikey

            the old "if I didn't do it, someone else would do it" excuse just doesn't wash. That lame excuse could cover everything up to and including waging war.

            It's not a good enough excuse for avoiding a moral decision.

            OTOH, when one person stands up courageously against injustice, it often leads others to do so as well...and then, we have a movement.

            Help stop gas drilling in Pennsylvania's Loyalsock State Forest!

            by marina on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 10:26:54 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Property values go down (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TDDVandy

      because people want to sell quickly, and they want to sell quickly because of racism. People don't sell in white flight neighborhoods because of property values, it's the other way around.

      I grew up in that kind of neighborhood in the Bronx.

      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

      by ramara on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 06:35:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  racism and pragmatic behavior (0+ / 0-)

      not mutually exclusive

      Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
      Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

      by TrueBlueMajority on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 08:28:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Far too simplistic. (0+ / 0-)

      Real estate agents tended to cause this by instilling fear in homeowners that a single black family in their neighborhood was going to kill their property values.  So they all sold.

      I guess that there could have been some who didn't have an irrational fear of blacks, but who sold just because they really feared that all their neighbors would sell and kill their property values.  But none of this happens without racism as the root cause.

      29, white male, TX-07 (current), TN-09 (born), TN-08 (where parents live now)

      by TDDVandy on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 11:44:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Blockbusting (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      never forget

      Blockbusting is an interesting illustration of racism in action -- and the way that it can feed on itself.

      Consider that even the real estate agents who instigated the blockbusting were necessarily all racists -- instead, I think that many of them saw an opportunity to make a bunch of money by panicking a whole neighbhorhood and collecting a bunch of sales commissions as a result.  Generally, I'd say that is even worse than racism, as it is totally amoral behavior to do something like that.

      Now were the sellers racist...or should they even be considered as condoning racism?  There the answer gets more complex.  Almost certainly, some of the sellers were indeed racists, who were successfully pushed into action merely by a real estate agent telling them that the "other" (usually, but not always, Blacks) was starting to move into their neighborhood.  

      But how about those who only sold because they were afraid of losing the value of their home? It's easy to accuse those folks of moral cowardice, especially when it's not our own net worths that are on the line.  But for most middle class families, the value of your home is your major source of net financial worth -- and I don't think it is fair or reasonable to expect these families to be willing to see their net worth wiped out for a moral stand.

      It's also interesting to note that looked at this way, laws banning blockbusting don't just protect minorities -- they also protect members of the majority who don't want to be stampeded out of their old neighbhorhoods by the threat of a real estate agent created collapse in neighbhorhood housing prices.

      Political Compass: -6.75, -3.08

      by TexasTom on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 11:46:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you for your thoughtful comment. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TexasTom

        The points you make parallel what I was saying.

        It's easy to be absolutey idealistic when one has little to lose.  When someone's finances will be destroyed, or when someone would be required to give up their dream, the situation becomes much more complex.

        We all make compromises in life.  I try to make choices  that work toward the betterment of mankind, but there are times when a price can be too high to pay for virtually no positive effect.

  •  They aren't mutually exclusive (5+ / 0-)

    And you have to wonder whether he would have even noticed if they were white kids from another municipality.

    Money doesn't talk it swears.

    by Coss on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 06:47:09 PM PDT

  •  "I'll take poor assumptions for $800, Alex." (8+ / 0-)

    (Rob Brown's character in the Gus Van Sant movie Finding Forrester.)

    I have a couple of close friends, both of whom have been blind from birth. One of them likes to tell the following story.

    She was in an airport seating area eating a snack when she heard a man get up and throw something in a trash barrel some distance away. When he came back, she asked him if he would mind walking to the barrel a second time to dispose of her trash.

    After an awkwardly long pause, the man did what she had asked. When he returned he explained.

    His first reaction was to be offended because he was an African-American and she was white.

    It was only after some seconds that he put two and two together and realized, "Hey, dummy (to himself) — she doesn't have the slightest idea what color I am."

    The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war. ☮ ♥ ☺

    by lotlizard on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 01:02:20 AM PDT

  •  nice story. love the line: (7+ / 0-)
    He had to think about this for a moment. "Those are our kids?"
    they are all our kids.

    “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller

    by pfiore8 on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 04:48:42 AM PDT

  •  racist, or territorial (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey, Karl Rover

    not mutually exclusive

    Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
    Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 08:25:41 AM PDT

  •  I really enjoyed this story. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey

    Most people simply don't have the discipline and maturity to deescalate a situation like that.

    And, if I may be frank, it often strikes me as intellectual laziness when a person jumps to the conclusion that, if an adversary doesn't agree with their values, their politics, their leadership, their opinions, etc, that "they must just be racist!"

    Not to take this too far off the rails, but to use the President as an example, I might argue that he's been soft on the NSA, that he hasn't yet closed Gitmo as promised, and that his foreign policy is a bit aggressive for my taste, all of which I feel are legitimate criticisms, but I'll often see his supporters dismiss these things with the claim of "oh, you're just a racist..."

  •  Nice story. Thank you. NT (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Karl Rover

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 12:06:06 PM PDT

  •  I work for a state agency (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Karl Rover

    and my job is advising people on certain legal matters.  A woman e-mailed a request that I help her father straighten out a few things.

    I called the number she left and the answering machine message was one of the worst, most disgusting hate-filled screeds against the President that I've ever heard.  I declined to leave a voice mail, but I returned the e-mail message:

    Although I am an employee of the state, I have a choice as to who will receive my assistance.  If your father wants my help, he'll need to change his voice mail. It is extremely offensive.
    She returned my e-mail, apologized for her father, explained that he had recently lost his wife of 50-some odd years, and yes, he has a weirdly insensitive sense of humor.

    I decided to give him one more try, and dialed him up.

    We talked for about half an hour; I didn't mention his voice mail, and neither did he.  We actually had a nice talk and I was able to explain some subtle points of the law that he didn't understand.

    His daughter e-mailed me a few days later, thanking me for my assistance and added:

    Dad changed his answering machine message.  Now he's a backup singer for Lady Gaga
    All of which I guess means that everybody deserves a second chance.

    Don't practice. Train.--Brian Harvey

    by luvsathoroughbred on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 01:41:58 PM PDT

  •  A very nice diary (0+ / 0-)

    You do good work, and made us think about a couple of things.

    This Rover crossed over.. Willie Nelson, written by Dorothy Fields

    by Karl Rover on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 07:18:06 PM PDT

  •  Lol...I also like being wrong (0+ / 0-)

    I guess that's the silver lining of being a pessimist ;)

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