Monday, May 18, 2009

VIRGINIA CONFIDENTIAL:
Racial Identity, Culture Politics, Elderly Church Ladies,
& Two Cartons of Vanilla-Flavored Soymilk

FARMVILLE, Va. (ZP) -- The elderly woman scrunched up her nose as two kids in front of us at the checkout counter held hands.

The girl rested her head against the boy's arm - he was a good foot and a half taller than her. The boy had his arm wrapped around her, was chewing on a straw and rubbing the girl's hip.

She had that giddy look to her, blonde and athletic in build, tan already so early in a preemptive summer. The guy wore a tee-shirt bearing a familiar and comfortable emblem, that of my own high school's mascot, the letters PECHS sprawled above a gold colored eagle, its talons poised for attack.

And they were oblivious to the people in line behind them at the grocery store. They could've cared less about visiting former residents or wrinkly old women with wrinkled brows full of disapproval.

As soon as the couple were out of earshot, the elderly woman felt the need to speak her mind, as old women tend to do at times.

"I don't know who raises their chil'ren to behave like that," she said. "They probably don't get no churching at home."

I nodded in acknowledgment of her comment, not in concurrence. There is no sense, after all, in starting a debate in a checkout line with a woman who appeared to be in her late 80s or early 90s. Those debates rarely end well...

"My daddy would've taken the belt to me or my people if we were all over each other like that..."

"Yes, ma'am. Times change."

That seemed to quiet her down a bit. Old people, for the record, sometimes say things merely because there is someone present to hear them speak.

There is a certain loneliness in aging, especially in tiny rural communities where the only things one has to look forward to in those advanced years are church suppers, bridge games, garden clubs, and reading the obituaries in a twice -a- week town paper.

Sometimes feeling as if you're always right, believing that your children and grandchildren's generations are turning everything to shit, is all you have left...

* * * *

The cashier grinned. She was eavesdropping as the elderly woman talked at me, offered me all sorts of advice on all sorts of things.

Including interracial dating. She was, well, not a fan, to say the least.

"That boy probably don't know what a black woman is," she said, digging her brown-yellow hand into her purse, "Or what that does to our women when a fine black boy like that goes running around with white women."

The cashier, a mocha-skinned young black woman, who looked to be a high school kid herself, started to snicker, then choked her momentary outburst down.

* * * *

It is really funny, you know.

Here's this elderly light-complexioned "black" woman only a shade "blacker" than the "white" 30ish dude she's talking to, attempting to explain the disgrace of a dark-complexioned, well-built black kid holding hands, in public no less, with a rather attractive white girl who looked kinda like a certain bubbly, blonde, Disney-raised pop singer from Louisiana.

I kept listening, nodding, and saying "Yes Ma'am" frequently as the woman doled out her coupons, did her These kids today rant, counted out her $10s and $20s to buy her groceries.

I was trying hard to be polite, a true gentleman, courteous and respectful of my elders. The cashier, too, was trying to be polite.

But then the woman went to the one place I didn't figure she'd go.

"If that boy wanted to be a real man and represent OUR people, he'd pull those pants up and respect himself, like OUR President ..."

I lost it.

I know. Very Rude. Laughing at old people's never a polite thing...

* * * *

Ya mean the Mom-was-a-white-chick, Dad-an-African-immigrant, multiethnic, only- a- shade- less- white- than- his- redfaced- cracker- from- Delaware- Vice-President President Obama?

The one whose American family history includes a history of slave ownership but no direct descendency from what's commonly thought of as the single largest signifier of "African-Americanism," that of having been actually related to former slaves?

So a black dude holding hands and getting all PDA with a white girl is disrespecting an entire ethnic cultural heritage, and if he just pulls his pants up, finds some religion, and looks up to a "black" president whose mom was a white woman, he'll somehow... somehow...

* * * *

Somehow what?

Grow up with the same sort of belief in preserving and defending a downright mythified African-American "race," in much the same way as some white Southerners grow up believing that they're somehow preserving the "White" race by waving a Confederate flag around, going to Klan meetings, or bitching about maintaining some fairy-tale racial purity that never existed?

Hell, hasn't that sort of thinking already proved to be the biggest embarrassment to the culture of these United States? Our eagerness to cling onto our often manufactured, self-sustaining ideas on race through social division at home, while condemning ethnic strife abroad in our media and diplomatic rhetoric?

People in the U.S. often live and die by racial history like dog breeders cling to kennel club papers - a dog is worthy of a dog show, after all, not because the dog is a dog but because his or her pedigree can be proven worthy to obsessive record keepers and judges.

* * * *

"That lady's a trip," the cashier said as she scanned my purchases. "But, I mean, for real though..."

I shrugged, swiped my bank card through the reader.

"Hey, I just try to respect my elders and let old people talk. How I was raised I guess."

The cashier had these gorgeous eyes when she smiled.

"You know, I was raised that way too. And I've got aunt like that."

"Hey, we all have relatives like that. It's how they grew up."

Nice to know that things are progressing just fine in my ol' hometown, all on their own, one youthful generation and one elderly rant at a time.

- # # # -

5 comments:

Angel, librarian and educator said...

I think you said it at the end, there is progress even if it is one at a time. And yes, I have an elder relative or two who would fit that old lady's profile. And I am now in a very red part of TX. I am told by the elders here Ea. TX is notorious for racial incidents. And yet, once in a while I see some young interracial couple. Kind of reassures me this racist claptrap could someday pass.

Best, and keep on blogging.

Ellie said...

I read a theory somewhere that credited a good load of the racial progress to music. Hip Hop. Rap. And let's not forget Michael Jackson - black and white and male and female all wrapped up into one!

flyingfountainpen said...

"That's how I was raised." So often, that is used as an excuse for distasteful behavior. It's nice to see the opposite.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Angel:
I've always been of the opinion that all social progress, as a society, develops on a individual level and must be developed in such a manner for any sort of meaningful advancement. Things like the very concept of race developed over centuries and spread throughout humanity like a virus - so too must the antivirus spread...

Ellie:
Very good point. There's a lot of evidence that points to the best parts of seemingly different cultures - their arts, music, literature, even cuisine - being a more subtle form of cultural exchange than, say, control or edicts of "tEverybody get along because we tell you to." Black, white, whatever... it's through our creative sides that we find our commonality.

Hey, thanks for stopping by again, chica!

Flying:
Haha, love the new nom du web there, homes. Very true.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Hey, I like that idea: like an antivirus. Let us hope it does keep spreading.

Best, and keep on blogging.