Sunday, July 12, 2009

I have no black friends

We just spent three days in Washington, D.C., a city I enjoy visiting because of all the big white monuments and regular sized black people.

There’s precious little of either of them here in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. You have to go to the fancy graveyard to see big white monuments and Pittsburgh to see black people.

There’s a poverty of racial diversity where I live and I believe I’m the poorer for it. The only black perspectives I get are the ones filtered by the mostly white executives at places like CNN.

We here in central Westmoreland County are almost uniformly white. Sure, some friendly Hispanics run our tasty Mexican restaurants. Some Asians immigrated here to satisfy our need for dishes like General Tso’s chicken.

But I need to road trip if I ever want to say howdy to an African-American.

I know it’ll doom my Supreme Court prospects, but I always take affirmative action any time I meet black people.

For years, I’ve felt it fell to me to be the white ambassador to the entire African-American race. I’m nicer to black people than I am to white people, and that includes, as I’m sure they’ll angrily attest, my pale-faced loved ones.

I make friendly eye contact. I extend small courtesies. I hope, in my own small way, I can help change any lingering perceptions that we are hopelessly divided by petty reasons of race.

This, of course, is utter foolishness. Any person, black or white, would have to be an idiot to say, “Gee, that white stranger who just introduced himself as Chris and held the door for me seemed like a nice dude. I think I’ll overlook the past 350 years of brutal suppression, slavery and overt racism perpetrated by his fellow Caucasians and go home and download some Barry Manilow tunes!”

Still, it’s the best I can do. I believe other people feel like I do and it’s making a difference.

That’s why I enjoy going to places like Washington and New York. It reminds me that, despite ample evidence of existing racism, things might be improving, even if they don’t seem to be where I live.

I know many of my neighbors would be suspicious if a black family moved in next to them. Not me. I would eagerly cultivate their friendship with an ardor that would have them fending off frequent invitations to dinner, back porch drinks and offers to have me mow their lawn and weed their garden.

Back when I lived in Nashville I could honestly say some of my best friends were black. Now, 20 years later, I can honestly say some of my best friends are rednecks.

They’re appalling racists. But, as I’ve said before, if I were to confine my friendships and conversation to exclusively enlightened people, it would be a very lonely existence and I’d have to stop talking to even myself.

Given all this, of course, I was thrilled by the election of Barack Obama, who I, by lack of any neighborhood alternatives, consider to be my best African-American friend, albeit in a distant FaceBook sort of way.

The others are named Mike Tomlin, Santonio Holmes, DeShea Townsend, James Harrison and Casey Hampton.

Of course, many of even my redneck friends like those guys, too, but only because they are Super Bowl champion heroes of the great Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure, they’re black, but, man, they’re also Black ‘n’ Gold!

If they were just guys from down the street, they’d be suspicious of them based solely on the color of their skin. That’s wrong and I hope one day that kind of ignorance is vanquished.

If it is, it’ll be in small part because of guys like me, the best friend the African-American race has ever had.

It's just too bad not a single one of them has the slightest inkling of the fact.


Jinksy said...

I wish the world as a whole would stop looking at a persons outside, before their inner being - we all bleed red...

Angie Ledbetter said...

Glad I live in my big ol' melting pot of Baton Rouge. Your post makes me sad for you and the homogenous existence. I hope you get to visit one day. :)

Michelle H. said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one. Westmoreland County (where New Alexandria is... btw - and where I grew up) is not suffering from a poverty of racial diversity. There are exactly, um, well, my brother used to live in Latrobe.

Okay, yeah, you're right. You have to take that 50 miles to Pittsburgh to even see a few different faces. A shame, really.

Chris Rodell said...

Thanks Jinksy and Angie. Yes, our box of crayons, diversity wise, is very small here. I do think things overall are improving and hallelujah for that. Baton Rouge sounds like a perfect antidote.

And, thanks, Michelle for agreeing with the gist of the post. It is a shame. I feel so invigorated going around a big city with real diversity. It makes me hope that one day the world will look like that.

And I should amend the post to acknowledge that Barack Obama and the Pittsburgh Steelers aren't my only black friends. You are too!