Thursday, November 6, 2008

Racism, it's the little things.

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."


  1. Oh my.

    Ysterday John and I both, seperately, heard otherwise usually rational people tell us that they have to buy as many guns as they can now, before they are all outlawed.

    John got to hear that the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.

    I spent the day with students at Delta Junction High School. The kids were all discussing the election, and I kept my mouth shut. The high point of my day - two girls were chatting "Oh, I can't believe he got elected, it's so horrible" "Yeah, and you know someone is going to assassinate him" (said in a not dismayed tone).
    The girl in the next desk over looks at them, and says in a very loud voice "Yeah, isn't a shame that the presidents that are actually good at the job seem to be the ones that killed?"

    Could have heard a pin drop. The smartass in me wanted to know what she thought McKinley's achievements were, but I kept my mouth shut.

    Working with mouthy punk-ass kids like that keeps me from totally hating my job.

  2. Your comments about fear are interesting. Today in the letters to the editor in the LA Times someone wrote "Today, for the first time in my adult life, I am afraid to be an American."

    I didn't really understand what she meant. I guess it is the fear that you are talking about.

    I feel sorry for her misdirected thoughts.

  3. Hee!

    I exchanged high-fives with an older guy at Costco yesterday wearing a "Veterans for Obama" T-shirt.

    The other customers looked at us askance. In our red, red county, that makes us subversive, at the very least.

  4. Wait.

    You're telling me people don't at least say hi to the greeters/cashiers/whatever when they go into stores?

    Why on earth not?

  5. I exchanged high-fives with an older guy at Costco yesterday

    Um, no. You're doing it wrong, Janiece, it's now fist jabbing. Just saying I foresee a lot of old white people with wrist injuries in the near future. :)

    You're telling me people don't at least say hi to the greeters/cashiers/whatever when they go into stores?

    Well, the cashiers in this store are mostly young white girls with aforementioned ample cleavage - so yeah, a lot of the male shoppers say hello, "Heeeeey! Don't you look fine today! So, working hard, or hardly working?" and etc, etc, etc, and so on and so forth.

    The black guy at the front door, I don't think they hit on him as much. Then again, old conservative white Christian women, hmmmmm, and Marines will take any hill you point them at, so you never know.

    Oh stop.

  6. (gives stern look)

    I didn't say hitting on, I said saying hi to. I mean, when I go to the store I usually say hi to the employees I see, unless they're busy. The greeter, I mean, why would you not say hi to the greeter?

    Y'all have funny ideas of rural up there.

  7. I'm immune to stern looks.

    Tania, I've got a friend who works a Sportsman's Warehouse, he said Obama is the best thing that's happened to them all year, gun and ammo sale are way up, followed by survival equipment.

  8. Okay then.


    (grabs chocolate and runs)

  9. Damnit! That was the last piece of Halloween chocolate too. You're on the list, little Michelle, yes, you are.

    And in case none of you noticed it and speaking of racism, last night some slobbering asshole from Oklahoma left one foul and idiotic comment under yesterday's post. Something along the lines of:

    Like all [insert ethnic slur here] in America this one has learned to steal.
    Go to [insert Aryan Nation website URL here] to see what this country will be like in 4 years.

    I'm not sure how he figures Obama stole anything - some kind of con on the voters, I guess - but the perfect example of ignorant, backward ass heartland American thinking. Personally, I find the swatch of red across the Bible Belt and up into the midwest very informative.

    Nothing gives me more pleasure than to watch these inbred fucktards twist on their own knives right now. And nothing worries me more about President Elect Obama's security. I hope to God, the Secret Service is on the ball.

  10. Yeah, what's up with not chatting with the greeters and cashiers? We do it up here all the time.

    Must be a Palmer/Wasilla thing.

    Heck, the Sam's Club greeter got a News-Miner article a few years ago.

  11. Well, I'm sure that many people do say hi to the greeters and such. But a lot don't, at least not that I've observed - and truthfully, the guy is more security than a greeter. My understanding is that there's been a lot of shoplifting since the economy went tango uniform.

  12. Wait a second. Are you telling me that, for reasons of a Constitutionally mandated activity, there are people who are... not proud and patriotic about their country? Who the hell do they think they are, Michelle Obama?

    Dr. Phil

    (oops, forgot to turn the irony meter down afterwards, sorry for the screechy feedback)

  13. I'm having visions of hired ex-military patriots greeting folks outside gun stores, now. :D

    That is pretty funny, Jim, especially that he voted for McCain.

  14. So somewhere along the line I read about Chocolate and Boobies in the scan through the comments. OK it started out talking about conversations without speaking, something about the old and the President-elect then off to Boobies. Well of course you can tell what gets my attention. Throw in a comment regarding free maple or myrtle wood and I would visit this place more often. Hey when did you get another partner in the shop? Hope she doesn't get cat hair on the FESTOOL!

  15. Y'know, Dr. Phil, that same thought crossed my mind when I read Jerry's comment quoting the idiot in the LAT who said she was suddenly afraid to be an American.

    Obama won the popular vote and took the Electoral College in what I think can fairly be called a landslide--some theft.

    Me, I'm still giddy that NC was finally declared for Obama today.

  16. Ok, but why wouldn't they say hi to a security guy?

    The day security guy when I worked at NIOSH (eight years ago) is named Tim. He has two kids, plays bluegrass music, and on the side makes custom necks for banjos.

    I don't know the security guys at HSC except to wave and say HI, because I don't have to pass a desk every morning.

  17. Great story. The security guy's reaction is the best.

  18. Heh. My reaction to the LAT person who is suddenly afraid was along the lines of "Hah! Turnabout is fair play! Nyah!"

    I thought about posting it (and also something about bullies running away)
    but then decided maybe I better not. >.>

    Wait. Did I just say that out loud?

  19. Too funny...I worked for many years on one of the big-box discount stores with greeters, they're pretty much universally ignored.

    And this gentleman's comment that he voted for McCain, priceless.

    Goes to show that "normal" statistics about this election don't exist. A couple of days before the election I heard that older, retired whites were all going to vote for McCain. Um, guess they didn't talk to our parents, who helped turn a red
    state blue!!

    Keep 'em coming! And give the former VP candidate the welcome home she so richly deserves! ;-)

  20. I always make eye contact with the greeters, and the ones at the Sam's Club I frequent don't even bother to look at my id anymore (although they do check the receipt). If there's something obvious I make a comment about it. Like, "It looks like your feet are hurting today." Or, "I know that walk, sorry your back hurts."

    It's going to me an very interesting two months, and then four years. Maybe this time as the prejudice flashes into the open we can kill more of it off.

    Also, I'm glad I'm not the only one who keeps continually checking my surrounds to spot what doesn't fit and what fits too well.


Comments on this blog are moderated. Each will be reviewed before being allowed to post. This may take a while. I don't allow personal attacks, trolling, or obnoxious stupidity. If you post anonymously and hide behind an IP blocker, I'm a lot more likely to consider you a troll. Be sure to read the commenting rules before you start typing. Really.