So, yesterday I had to run a couple errands.
And I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some hamburger buns.
Now, this particular store normally has a guy standing by the door to check that the customers aren't departing without, you know, actually paying for the stuff they're leaving with. Technically I guess you could call him "The Greeter."
I go into this store a lot, and I'm familiar with the usual greeters.
Since I normally go in around the same time, I've noticed that for the last several months the greeter has been the same guy.
Like anybody in his position, most customers seem to regard him as a piece of the store equipment and usually just ignore him. I don't know him, but he sees me several times a week. The job is a thankless one, and personally I think it's rude to just walk past without at least acknowledging his presence. He nods, I nod and flash my receipt, he tells me to have a nice day, and I usually say something like "you too" - and that's about the limit of our relationship.
Did I mention that he's black? No? Well, that's probably because I don't usually notice such things other than in passing and for me skin color isn't even in the top five defining criteria I use for identifying people. For me the list goes something like: sex, age, height, build, dress, posture, demeanor - and then maybe skin tone depending on any number of other factors that might catch my eye first, such as whether or not I think he/she might be armed, specially trained, or engaged in unusual activity - and well, ample and exposed cleavage (Hey, sue me, I'm a guy). I also tend to notice if an individual is well kept, has unusual or out of place features, is displaying strange or out of place behavior, and like that. Part of this is my natural inclination, I'm just not xenophobic, I like diversity, I like people who are different than myself. Part of it is experience, I've spent most of my life in strange places and among alien cultures, places where skin tones vary widely such as Spain, Asia, South America, Africa, or the Middle East - and are rarely worth comment. In the Navy we were all Navy Blue and my shipmates' skin colors spanned the spectrum and frankly I mostly just didn't notice. And part of it is training, I was an intelligence officer and a force protection officer and I was trained to look for specific indicators that might tell me if an individual was up to no good, and those things rarely had anything to do with skin color. One of the indicators I noticed about this particular man is that he often wears a USMC button on his hat. A lot of people do, but he carries himself like a Marine, and his eyes move like a man who's seen combat. That makes him a shipmate, and those things I tend to notice first.
Yesterday, however, it was the greeter's skin color I noticed first.
Well, because as I stood in the checkout line with my bag of buns waiting for the woman in front of me to count out exact change, penny by penny, for the pack of smokes she was buying, I noticed a large number of older white people stopping to talk to the greeter. One white haired woman timidly shook his hand, which I think startled him greatly. A number looked, well, if not frightened, at least a bit nervous. The greeter looked, well, bemused and perhaps just a little amused.
As I said, I tend to notice unusual activity.
Alaska is the reddest of the Red States, and the Valley where I live is the reddest shade of crimson in the entire state. All three of our electoral votes went to Palin and her running mate, Whatshisname. Though the results aren't fully tabulated yet, it would appear that my fellow Alaskans would rather have a convicted felon in the Senate than even think about voting for a non-conservative. Ditto for our Representative, who's under investigation in the same scandal. The population here is overwhelmingly Caucasian, and African Americans are few and far between - many are military families just passing through. I've never seen any overt racism directed towards blacks - usually the racism around here is reserved for Native Alaskan Peoples - but this place is a hotbed of neocon conservatism and I suspect that it's there, if firmly below the surface.
I was only about ten feet from the front door, and even with my lousy hearing I could make out the conversations, white people were nervously congratulating the black greeter - for Barrack Obama's presidential win. The greeter caught my interest - I grinned, he rolled his eyes and we both shared a covert chuckle - and I stopped being irritated at how long the goofy bitch in front of me was taking and secretly hoped she'd take longer so I could watch the scene at the front door for a while.
It was hysterical. Young people didn't seem to notice. But the older folks, the ones in their sixties and seventies, the obvious conservatives, some sporting McCain/Palin buttons were scared. They were scared of the black guy at the front door, the guy that day before yesterday they had regarded as little more than animated store equipment. But now, well, now Americans will soon have a black president - and that was scaring the ever living bejebbers out of those old white people. You could see it in their faces, which said clearly, if reluctantly, "I just want to say to you, Black Person, I, for one, welcome our new African American Overlords."
It was everything I could do not to laugh right out loud.
It was obvious that many of these people expect African Americas to take over the country. And when that happens they fully expect to be treated just exactly as badly as they've treated people of color for their whole lives. They were acting, in point of fact, like Afrikaners when Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa - please Mr. Black Man, don't take our daughters and our farms!
The irony was just plain hysterical.
The unconscious racism of assumption was even more hysterical:
On the way out, I grinned at him and said quietly, "congratulations."
"Screw that," he said, grinning back. "I can't stand the guy. I voted for McCain."