Yesterday I had one of those weird conversations white Southerners sometimes find themselves drawn into. I was talking to one of our older white neighbors, who is maybe in his 70's. He was doing me a favor by telling me about an affordable tree-trimming service, which we badly need to get rid of the tree that has taken our electricity and/or cable out 3 times in the past few years. He took the opportunity to ask me if I knew whether the people who bought the house across the street from us were white or not.(*Sigh*, I thought. Here we go again.) I said I had seen them and they do appear to be white. Well, without ever uttering the "n" word or saying anything overtly nasty, he went on to express his satisfaction because in his opinion our neighborhood is still 90% white, and he made it clear that that's the way he wants it to stay.
Well, I guess maybe the old guy doesn't get out that much, because from what I've seen, our neighborhood is much more diverse than that. But I guess it's possible that he's grouping the Arabic families, the Asian folks and the Latinos into the "white" category, and maybe that's how he comes up with this 90% number. He maybe even thinks he's being broad-minded, to consider those folks white. Still, you have to wonder why 90% is the magic ratio and where he gets that idea from.
I always feel really uncomfortable when I talk to older people who talk like this. It's possible that they don't even know that what they are saying is racist. I kind of know instinctively that if I were to tell them that I'm offended by their attitude, they will ostracize me. Instead, I told him, "We have a lot of good black neighbors!" He agreed with that, but reiterated that we still don't want TOO MANY. (I don't see how you can have too many good neighbors, no matter what their race is.)
He then went on to recommend a good affordable "Christian" mechanic shop. He really made it a point to emphasize that they are Christians, because he said it more than once. I don't know about you, but I don't care anything about what religion my mechanic practices, as long as he (or she) knows how to fix my car. Once again, it was one of those subtle cultural things that really irks me. Is "Christian" code for "upstanding," "moral," or "fair?" Is a Christian mechanic less likely to overcharge you for repairs? I guess one would hope so. But on the other hand, probably the majority of U.S. mechanics belong to some Christian denomination or the other, yet customers are still being overcharged and ripped off on a regular basis.
The whole conversation left me feeling like we were from two different worlds. I don't want to make my neighbor seem like a bad person, because I'm sure he's not. Nor do I think I'm morally superior in some way. But I think it does point out a generational difference. I wonder if he was as aware of it as I was...