Wednesday, March 26, 2008

That's Not Politics, Lady

I walked into my neighborhood pharmacy this afternoon to collect a prescription. Standing ahead of me, picking up a prescription of her own, was a woman and her young son. The woman had red hair in quantity and she was dressed in a manner that made me think of her as middle- or upper-middle class, which wouldn't be uncommon in the area. Her son was, perhaps, five years old. The pharmacist behind the counter was asking her for a signature. The woman paused just long enough that the pharmacist began to explain, but the woman cut her off, saying "I understand; it's so I won't use it like crack cocaine." The woman laughed loudly at her own humor.

I stood there reflecting to myself that the woman had no idea what she was talking about, and that the sudden, specific reference to crack cocaine was odd, in any case. Apparently, however, the reference was familiar to her son, who promptly began speaking animatedly: "Yes, Mommy wants McCain. Mommy doesn't want that other one. That sea-monkey. Do you, Mommy?"

The woman, now angry, told her son: "Not now! I am not going to discuss politics in a pharmacy."

I can only assume from the context that "sea-monkey" was a reference to Senator Obama specifically, and to black people in general. I stood there lost for words, but convinced that when such a viewpoint was expressed in front of me, I had some obligation to stand up and say that it was wrong, lest my silence be taken for some level of sympathy with the viewpoint, thereby bolstering it. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a single useful thing to say. The best I managed was a glare at her when she turned to leave.

As is usually the case, the right words came to me shortly after they were of no use to me – while I was walking through the parking lot. Since they weren't said when they were needed, I'll at least say them here: "That's not politics, lady, that's racism."

That woman makes me fear for my state and nation of today. Her son makes me fear for their future. Though started-off in the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of racism, in the long run the boy has the potential, and the responsibility (shared by us all), to think his way through the errors of our personal and collective past. Good luck, kid. The great state of Texas and our United States are depending on people like you to further their redemption.


  1. I remember sitting on a plane flight in the late 1980s; an older woman sat down next to me, and (apparently thinking my skin color made me some kind of ally), began quietly whispering about how blacks were ruining our country.

    That sort of thing doesn't happen to me very often any more, but there's still a lot of covert racism out there. I can only hope that making it quieter makes it less contagious.

    Thanks for posting the story.

  2. As we always enjoy your stories when you stop by on random Sunday evenings last night was about the bat adventure and modem hell. I can't believe you didn't get around to this bizarre episode. I want to make sure if I run into this pair that I can be on the look out for rampant racisim and make a comment, as I am never short of something to say to people that need in enlightening.