gall and gumption

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Sitting Duck No More

A couple mornings ago I was sitting outside my apartment building having a smoke (Yeah. Bite me.) and trying to finish a piece of writing I was working on and my neighbor stopped to chat. He's an older European immigrant, from the Eastern bloc, who has lived and run his own business in this country for 30 years. We usually exchange a word, probably talked as long as an hour once. He professes to dislike small talk and likes to discuss Real Subjects. So that morning he first announces that he is completely colorblind when it comes to people and always tries to see people as individuals. And I think Oh Christ here it comes. Then he tells me that he really understands this race thing, there are many sides to everything, and I think Oh yeah that too of course. He loves Barack Obama not because he's black but because he's brilliant. Yep. And pretty soon he's quoting Bill Cosby at me and I am wincing. He is giving me Cosby's advice about the fatherless black boys growing up and becoming drug dealers, the unmarried black teen mothers naming their kids Shaneequa and Taneesha and how do they expect to get on in the world with these names, he is telling me about the 25-year-old grandmothers living on government handouts. I manage to assert that there are no handouts, but that is beside the point. Because in the days since, as I have seethed and tried to figure out how to get the slime off myself, I have had time to figure out what the real issue is. Whatever he said about being colorblind--and I have no doubt he believes it--my line of contact with him, so to speak, has this conspicuous feature: his feeling that he is entitled to give me unsolicited advice about these problems even though I am 1) not a 25-year-old grandmother on welfare; 2) not a young black male drug dealer named Shaneequa; 3) not the mother or grandmother of same.

I don't know how it happens but I get this sort of thing from time to time. I remember in Santa Barbara a guy tried to chat me up by confiding to me how much he admired Ward Connerly and Stanley Crouch.

My feeling right now is that I do not owe it to people like this to a) encourage them to believe that they are perfectly nice when they drop this crap on me out of a clear blue sky, or b) give my consent to their delusion that they are having some kind of sensible conversation when underneath it their peculiar form of crazy is whooping and screeching at me; or c) agree with my neighbor that conversation with him goes best when it goes one way--he speak Kia listen because in his eyes I, despite points 1), 2) and 3) above, belong to the class of people who need advice while he belongs to the class of people who are entitled to dispense it without being asked for it, and what's good enough for the drug dealing nonexistent-welfare-mooching socialist Shaneequa is good enough for me. That these figments of his imagination, if they did exist, would be totally in their rights to tell him to go stuff himself if he tried it on them, I take of course as given.

I mean there are two levels of conversation going on--the spoken and the unspoken. In the spoken one there's a subject and I am sort of expected to watch this man blunder around with it and politely pretend that this pathetic spectacle is some sort of respectable intellectual activity full of mutuality and thoughtfulness and judicious inquiringness and detachment. But the reality, in the unspoken conversation is more like if someone walks up to you and announces, with great complacency at the contemplation of his own goodness and anticipation of your gratitude, that he did not piss in the washbasin today.

Well, for me the real subject is the unspoken conversation. This is my problem with the incoherent angry people Roy is talking about here. In the first place--and I just don't feel like moving from the first place till I'm good and ready--they cannot give an honest account of what they are angry about, and in the second place they don't feel any obligation to even try to be honest. So why should I listen to them? By countenancing their pretence that they are acting rationally and honestly I am helping them to be assholes. It's much kinder to let them manage that on their own.

As for my neighbor, if he ever dares to mention this subject to me again I shall tell him, as politely as I can, that I am not interested. Let him eat fish heads and rice. And now that the weather's nice I can go work round the back of the building.


At 9:11 AM, Anonymous BT said...

I think this is where I say "you're extremely well-spoken and educated" and tell other people "you would never know this blog was written by a black person."

But that would be only slightly funnier than anything that man said to you, so I shall refrain.

It remains a mystery why we as a nation cling to this color-blindness thing: it's a tremendous cover for people that have essentially unexamined prejudices but don't like the way prejudiced people sound. The next best thing to actual racism is talking about racism every time you set eyes on a colored folk.

Someday all humans will be luminous, and we will kill each other not based on chroma but luminance. This will be a tremendous step forward.

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’d tell them exactly what you just posted, if the situation reoccurs. I myself give them my exact and honest opinion, as politely and clearly as possible. For years I’ve exchanged a silent roll of the eyes with other blacks in the room whenever a white ventures an unfinished opinion on race. Our real character was starting to feel like a state secret of some kind. But why? This culture has only seen the tip of the iceberg as far as who we really are and what we’re about. Instead of a screen projected upon, I'd rather be a communications system.


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