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: 119

Comment by Rich Lane on August 17, 2009 at 7:02pm
My sister once asked me if Dolores and our two older kids were ever beneficiaries of "Save the Children" before I met them. She swore our oldest son looked just like the boy on the pamphlet they got when they started donating. When I informed her that the kid on the front of the pamphlet was Cambodian, and Dolores is Mexican, her answer was a variation of "well, they all look a like." ...but she's not a bigot...
Comment by The Baron on August 17, 2009 at 7:41pm
Heh - I got enough jib from me grandma for bringing home Yankee* Protestant girls. Heaven knows what she would've said if I'd've brought home one that wasn't white...

*In the Boston Irish Catholic use of the word, not the Southern misuse of it. ;)
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on August 17, 2009 at 11:09pm
Joan Carr said:

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.

Rich Lane said:
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.

I've always found that curious, especially after this development in the whole hoopla over Henry Louis Gates getting arrested: A Boston Herald columnist wrote about it, and got an incredibly bilious e-mail from an officer on the Boston P.D, (here), who -- pending termination hearings, apologized in an interview with a Boston TV station and asserted "I am not a racist, I never have been, never will be. I treat people with dignity and respect every time."

Clearly, he knows that it's a bad thing to be known as a bigot., but also clearly, he doesn't think any of his statements -- and beliefs -- are enough to classify himself as one; in his mind he hasn't yet crossed the line. It's as if they think there's something other, something else that makes for a bigot.
Comment by Don Collett on August 18, 2009 at 12:29am
I've run into people with similar mindsets as your neighbor, each of those cases, they were "seasoned" citizens who would be around his age now. I would lean toward the reasoning that these attitudes are just reflective of the culture in which they grew up. I'm not attempting to excuse it in any way, but when you grow up hearing these negative stereotypes reinforced by society, it can be a bit difficult to "unlearn" it.
Comment by Figserello on August 18, 2009 at 3:45am
Well, happening to have your values formed by your environment/upbringing is one thing, but this mean old cuss goes out of his way to spout vile attitudes to people he barely knows so that his own prejudices will be reaffirmed by their not objecting to what he says.

It's a kind of bullying in a way, and he manages to somehow force others to 'agree' with his position and thus reaffirm it. Sounds like he enjoys making liberals squirm!
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on August 18, 2009 at 7:42am
Ms. Carr,

Unsolicited as it may be, I shall offer you my take on your experiences nonetheless. I think that some people really think they're good people, and really ARE good people - but they're following a standard that doesn't apply equally to everyone. Everyone has some distaste/annoyance/hatred of some types of people, varying widely in degree as it does.

Shucks, just look at this post. How many people despise bigots?

It's difficult to hate the sin and love the sinner, especially when the sin is so egregious, and so outdated, and so offensive to those who are trying to move forward in history, instead of celebrating its heinous occurrences. (It happened, yes, but it didn't happen last week. Remember it, absolutely . "Never again!", unquestionably. But the victims don't get to still revel in it and demand recompense, the offenders don't get to revisit those crimes. Let's move on, shall we?)

I suppose that you hit the nail right on the head, actually. "The whole conversation left me feeling like we were from two different worlds." You are, my lass. Your neighbor is a good person from the 1950s. You're (presumably :) ) a good person from the 2000's - you certainly show a good deal of tolerance and compassion for that neighbor. This is, I fear, a condition that must simply be borne until it passes out of society.

Stick to your guns, Ms. Carr! The moral high ground is usually a good place to stand when it's right.

I remain,
Eric L. Sofer
The Silver Age Fogey

P.S. As for the comment about Christian mechanics... trust me, when most of the Jews I know have their cars break down, they can fix one thing - an appointment time to go to the auto repair shop! :) :) :)
Comment by Joan Carr on August 18, 2009 at 10:23am
Good points from everyone here. I think Don Collett and the Fogey hit it on the head. There's no changing someone's ingrained attitudes. But eventually these people who grew up under segregation and think it's the way it ought to be will all die off. I don't mean that's just that they are old and will almost certainly die before we do. We just have to wait them out.
Comment by The Baron on August 18, 2009 at 11:40am
And some day, young people will be saying about us:

"But eventually these people who grew up before the quantum disseveration and think it's the way it ought to be will all die off. I don't mean that's just that they are old and will almost certainly die before we do. We just have to wait them out."
Comment by Joan Carr on August 18, 2009 at 12:04pm
Comment by The Baron on August 18, 2009 at 12:39pm
It's always been weird to me - I've known many people (including members of my own family) who were in many ways very loving people, and yet could be quite hateful in some ways, as well. It seems like a paradox that love and hate could coexist like that.


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