Thursday, October 3, 2013

There I Was, Being Black All by Myself

The government shutdown was inevitable. The extreme right, the Tea Partiers, the “wacko birds” were going to make it happen. They are holding the country hostage. They say it’s because of the debt ceiling, and they want to defund the ACA, or what they refer to as Obamacare. But that is just rationale for the true reason.
Why is it that D. Whiteman feels perfectly comfortable walking up to my husband Ronald, who is black, to start up a conversation that generally begins like this? “I don’t like your president. I’m not racist, but I hate him.”
It happened just yesterday at the golf range. I’ve written about the white guys at the golf range before. The owner calls Ronald “black Ron” and Ronald regales me with stories of the things all the old white guys feel perfectly comfortable saying to him.
Yesterday Ronald was talking to another black guy while they hit balls. The guy had been a college basketball player. Now sixty, he is just a few years older than Ronald. They had talked for some minutes and were enjoying the conversation and hitting balls side by side. Then D. Whiteman, who was down on the other end of the range, couldn’t take it anymore. He walked over and broke into the conversation.
“Why did he do that?” I asked Ronald as he recounted more details of the story this morning.
“Because two black guys were talking, and white people can’t stand it. They think we are plotting. They can’t help themselves.”
I’m white, but I know it’s true. What’s the thing a lot of white people dislike about Hispanics or Asians who are new to America? They speak a different language. And when one is bestowed with societal privilege, it’s easy to believe that the only thing people who speak a different language could possibly be talking about is the white American who can’t understand them. The whole goddamn world revolves around them. And that’s what the white guy was thinking when he walked down the range and got into the conversation between the two black men.
Ronald and the other black guy gave each other a look, but let the white guy talk. Soon it turned bad.
First, the white guy was instructive about golf.  Ronald’s been playing for almost 40 years, and he takes his practice seriously. With the range owner’s permission, Ronald sets out targets at certain distance intervals. Then he goes through a series of exercises. Hitting high, medium, and low; moving the ball five yards left or five yards right of his intended target; landing on the target or making the ball roll up to the target. He is retired. He goes just about every day. He’s better than good. He’s a single-handicapped golfer. He’s studied the sport for all the time he’s played, in depth, and took lessons with some of the finest teachers. A lot of people ask Ronald for golfing advice, and he generously gives of his time and knowledge, not asking for anything in return. He loves the game that much. Why would this white guy believe he could teach Ronald a damn thing, especially when he wasn’t asked?
Because he assumes he knows more and that Ronald knows less.
Then the white guy changed topics and started in on gun control and Obamacare. Ronald disagreed with him. The white guy said, “You don’t understand the concepts.”
Why did the white guy think Ronald was not capable of understanding the content of the conversation?
Because he assumes he is smarter and Ronald is dumber.
Ronald looked at the other black guy and said, “Excuse me, I have to take care of this.”
“Do what you have to do,” the black guy said.
Then Ronald went there, deep into the darkness of anger – where he recalls the countless times he put his life on the line as a firefighter to save the life of someone who thought Ronald wasn’t his equal or who said he didn’t want the black guy in his house even though it was burning down or to perform CPR on his wife even though she was dying – and he blasted the guy, called him a motherfucker, and asked him who he thought he was. Back in the seventies, when we met freshman year of college, he would have said, “I hooged out.”
He was silent when he got home. He went straight up to the man room.  When he came out he went straight to our bedroom, sprawled sideways across the bed, and pulled a blanket up to his chin. I cooked dinner, called him to come eat, and we ate in silence. Told him after I cleaned up that we could go to Lowe’s and buy a new cabinet mounted microwave because ours broke. We drove over in silence. I knew something happened, maybe not one incident, maybe something cumulative, but it was something.
I was glad Lorne was working in the appliance department. He’s a black guy from Pittsburgh, and he and Ronald talk a lot, sometimes for hours.  As he showed us the microwaves, Ronald started talking.
“There I was, just being black all by myself, and along comes D. Whiteman,” he said.
Lorne laughed. “I hear you, man.”
Then the story came out, a detail at a time. I didn’t say much. I let him talk. He needed to. He needed to be understood by someone who had experienced the same thing over and over.
Finally, I spoke up. “This is why just about every middle-aged black man I know suffers from depression.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Lorne said nodding.
You’re a black male in America. You survive childhood and your teenage years where your chance of dying jumps into double figures. You go to college and graduate. You survive your twenties, which include numerous run-ins with the police like DWB (driving while black) and you don’t end up in jail, at least not for more than a night. You get a decent job serving your community. You get married, have children, and raise them with love and compassion and warnings about what it is to be black in America. You stay with your wife, even when the job is killing you and your white colleagues are trying to drive you off the job because they think blacks don’t deserve to work there and you try like crazy not to let that darkness creep into your marriage or cause you to fail on the job. You hang in. You put up with the bullshit. One day you retire. You reach that age where you think the bullshit shouldn’t happen anymore.
But it does. It happens every time you step out the door and some white yahoo wants to tell you what time it is. It happens every time you turn on the news and watch the Congressional bullies try to knock down President Obama because they know and you know that they can’t stand a black man in the highest office of the land. You start wondering how much longer you have to put up with it – the racism, the contempt, the hatred, the paranoia, and the sense of entitlement that white Americans walk around with like it’s a badge of honor. You’re sick of it but you get bombarded with it every single fucking day.
That’s what it is like to be a middle-aged black man in America.
It pains me to witness. I feel hopeless, helpless, and outraged. I want to become a recluse, give up on humanity, and just wait till this life is done because other people make life suck, and I am unable to make it better for the person I love with all my heart and with every bone in my body.
Then I think that President Obama must feel very much like Ronald and millions of other black men. Why are they attacking him? Why are they attacking laws that the majority of Americans support? Because they think he doesn’t understand the concepts. Because he will never achieve whiteness, as if he ever aspired to, as a mixed-race individual. Because they are confident whiteness makes them more capable, smarter, and better.
I don’t know how he has put up with it as long as he has without losing it, without taking care of it, and without calling them motherfuckers. He’s been careful to keep race out of the conversation except when absolutely necessary, because he would be accused of pulling the race card. But the race card was already pulled from the deck by the GOP and the racist crazies who rant and rave about the president and who feel perfectly comfortable letting every black person they see know what their opinion is of the president, your president, and what they think of you, because their opinion matters and yours doesn’t. They are entitled to have an opinion, entitled to tell you what it is, entitled to tell you how it is for you as a black man in America and that you are wrong, and you don’t know how it is, and you are to sit and listen to them because they are better.
Ronald tries to make me feel better when he says, “I know you try hard. I know you understand a lot of it, but I am the one out there being bombarded, and I am tired. I can’t do it anymore.”
I know. I feel that way, too. That’s why I don’t break the silence when he doesn’t want to talk. It’s why I can barely write because I’ve been through it over and over, and I’ve written about it this way and that way, but nothing changes.
President Obama must be feeling it while the extreme whites are yelling for his impeachment: “There I was, just being black all by myself, and here comes D. Whiteman.”
 President Obama is one of the millions of middle-aged black men in America who waded through the bullshit and danger, only to discover they are still trapped by white entitlement and privilege.
I know the real reason for the government shutdown.

President Obama