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...

Views: 103

Comment by The Baron on August 16, 2009 at 6:51pm
I don't think that's purely a "Southern" thing, as such. I ran into that alot back home (in Boston) and I still run into it down here on the Island - and not just with old-timers, either. I saw - and still see - plenty of folks who never in a million years say a racist word to a "non-white" person's face, but who, behind closed doors and with no non-whites around, would say plenty.

As for the "Christian" mechanic, well - as I'm sure you've probsably surmised yourself - what he means is "a mechanic who is the sort of Christian that your neighbor considers to be the 'right sort of Christian'." When I last lived in Boston, I had lousy radio, and the only station that would come in was the local "Christian" station. I listened to it from time to time. In addition to preachers of various stripes - mostly Evangelicals, there were what amounted to infomercials for "Christian" investment plans, diet plans, even "Christian" vitamins.
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on August 16, 2009 at 11:56pm
You may not want to make your neighbor seem like a bad person, because you're sure he's not, but I've heard enough to know that I'm sure that he is.
Comment by Joan Carr on August 17, 2009 at 10:39am
Thanks for your comments, guys. I was hesitant to write about this incident because I was a little weirded out by the whole thing and didn't know how other people on the board would react. While I don't want to dislike someone that I know so little about, I'm starting to lean toward ClarkKent_DC's opinion. And what really tipped the balance for me is another comment the guy made that I didn't even put in the post. He expressed disapproval of school kids (once again, I understood him to mean "black kids") who walk through our residental neighborhood to go from their school to a nearby apartment community instead of taking the shorter route on a heavily-traveled main road. I said, "Don't you think that's to avoid the traffic on the main road?" He said he doubted that. I guess he was implying that they are walking through our neighborhood to look for stuff to steal. In retrospect, that was the most offensive thing he said. He resents kids taking a safer route to school! How mean is that?
Comment by Mike Parnell on August 17, 2009 at 10:49am
I always heard that Mark Twain said this, but have not been able to confirm it, your neighbor is probably a good person in the worst sense of the word.
Comment by Captain Comics on August 17, 2009 at 2:09pm
I guess he's my neighbor, too, but I want nothing to do with him. He's a racist, short and simple, and I have no tolerance for intolerance.
Comment by Rich Lane on August 17, 2009 at 2:38pm
It's frustrating when you hear of these kind of comments because I get filled with a kind of impotent rage. A few months ago, I heard one of my seniors from last year had an incident at a town convenience store. He's black, and he went in around 11 PM to get a pop. There was an old (late 60s from the way it was described) redneck behind him making comments about how in the old days this kid wouldn't have been out in public at night (A lot of towns around here used to be sundowners). It really bothered this kid, from what I heard, and rightly so.

I waffle back and forth in my mind what I would have done had I been there to witness it. My instantaneous thought was that I'd jump all over that hick's s--t, telling him the things my student is too polite to say, but the rational part of me realizes that that might make the student's humiliation even greater, having his teacher coming to his defense out in the "real" world.
Comment by Joan Carr on August 17, 2009 at 3:05pm
I don't think the neighbor I talked to this Saturday would ever burn a cross on a black family's yard. He might not even make snide comments like the guy Rich Lane was talking about. Remember, this man thinks he's a "Christian." I don't think that he realizes that the bias that he attributes to concern about our neighborhood is really just as bad as much uglier forms of racism. Now I feel guilty I didn't take a stronger stand to defend our black neighbors when I was talking to this guy. But on the other hand, in my experience, no matter what you say, you can't change the mind of a bigot.
Comment by Rich Lane on August 17, 2009 at 3:59pm
Joan may be right, as I've found over the years some of the worst racists are the ones who don't consider themselves such. My sister in Georgia is one of those. It seems like every third sentence she speaks anymore is full of bile, but she insists she's not a bigot.
Comment by PowerBook Pete, the Mad Mod on August 17, 2009 at 4:04pm
My mom thought she was not being racist by using that one N word that's "not as bad" as that other N word.
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on August 17, 2009 at 6:51pm
"Nincompoop?" Photobucket

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