That’s just the way it is

This song is thirty years old this year. In it, Hornsby sings about things that were twenty years in the past when the song became a hit.

***

A local church has posted a “Black Lives Matter” banner. It has been stolen or vandalized six times since it was posted. Sometimes in bars, talking about the politics of the day, people tell me about “black on black” crime. I joked to a Texas friend who lives in Virginia now that I have no idea how black people who lived around here would even find any other black people to commit a crime against.

***
The racial composition of my county, according to the 2010 U.S. census.

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-1-10-40-pm

***

My SIL lives in a different county where the percentage of “white alone” is more like 96 percent. Her best friend has mixed race grandchildren. When we’re at a basketball game, SIL makes sure that the little girls have a place to sit next to us.

“I’m worried they don’t have anyone to talk to,” she explains. “I don’t want them to feel left out.”

***

My dad bought the land our house stands on from a farmer in the mid-1960s. The farmer’s house was on the corner. For the longest time it was us on the far edge of a cornfield, just in front of a swampy wooded area that he owned but did not farm. As time passed, the farmer sold off corners of his field along the road, and other houses popped up, bit by bit. Mom planted trees like crazy to block us off from the neighbors.

The front yard in mid-September. Forty years of planting assure that we can't see our neighbors. I planted that elm at the left with my parents when I was very small. Amazing it's still there.

The front yard in mid-September. Forty years of planting assure that we can’t see our neighbors. I planted that elm at the left with my parents when I was very small. Amazing with all the elm disease that it’s still there.

Then the farmer died and his daughter inherited the farm and she turned it into a riding stable. Then she retired, moved to the swampy wooded area in the back of our house. and sold the lot on the corner. Someone put up a building where the horse barn had been and different businesses rotated in and out until about ten years ago, when a Mexican restaurant moved in. There are now two restaurants in town and both are owned and operated by Mexican families.

We like the restaurant on the corner and I like the owner, Oscar, who’s from Guanajuato. He listens very patiently when dad retells his story about how this place used to be a horse’s stall. Also, I know that Oscar has driven dad home a few times when he’s had too much to drink and it’s too cold outside to walk. And he and I like to joke about why he won’t put pozole or birría on his menu. It took me a while to convince him that I’d even been to Guanajuato.

Flower refuses to set foot in the place. I try not to speculate about why.

A few weeks ago she didn’t want to go out Friday night and dad I went there.

Oscar said, “Hi, I haven’t seen you for a while!” He and dad are on a first name basis.

Dad says, “You weren’t here the last few times I was here either.”

I say, “They’re opening a new restaurant in the city.”

Dad says, “Oh, yeah, business is that good? That’s great!”

“Yeah, we’re really happy,” Oscar says. “A lot going on, busy, busy.”

Dad says, “But you’re not going to go to work at that restaurant, right, you’re going to stay here? You live in our town, don’t you?”

“We’re trying,” Oscar says.

In the late 1990s, when dad was on the town zoning board and I was temping for a lawyer in the city, a lot of the farmers whose families had been here for a century and had big land holdings sold out, and our house was gradually enveloped by middle class homes. I got paid $11 an hour to fill in the deeds with legal descriptions for the lawyers while the zoning board did its best to limit the development.

Flower bought one of those homes, about a decade after that.

Luckily, the trees were in place by then, and we have five acres, whereas everyone else has a fraction of an acre, so we can ignore what’s going on around us.

“There are lots of houses for sale in our little town,” I say.

“Yeah,” Oscar says, “We wanted one close to the restaurant and we made an offer on one two weeks ago.”

“That’s great,” I say, because there’s no way this family got turned down to buy a house. They have two restaurants and are opening a third.

“Not so great,” Oscar says. “We passed the credit check and everything and made an offer and it wasn’t accepted.”

“Huh,” I say, “House prices going up that fast?” The schools here have a much better reputation than when I was a kid, and the town does now — oddly, in comparison to the past — have a reputation for exclusivity.

“No,” Oscar says. “The lady who owned it told me I wasn’t the right buyer for her house.”

Oscar and I look at each other uneasily. I know what he means.

“Which house?” Dad says.

Oscar tells us where and I think I know who he’s talking about. It’s someone who goes to dad’s church and who hasn’t lived here all that long herself.

“I don’t think that’s legal,” I say.

“I told my wife,” Oscar says, “Maybe we are getting an attorney. But she doesn’t want to.”

“If I see any signs go up,” I say, “I’ll let you know right away. I’d love to have you next door.”

“I don’t think it’s legal either,” Dad says. “Plus, it’s nothing unusual. When the kids were little everyone here was white but there are all kinds of Mexicans living here now.”

“Yeah, if you see anything,” Oscar says, “that would be great. We need four bedrooms.”

“What’s in it for me?” Dad says. “Will you bring us some tacos?” He laughs uproariously.

I wince.

Oscar slaps dad on the back and says, “Yes, sir, I will make sure you have your tacos.” He smiles faintly, but he doesn’t laugh.

I double the tip when we leave.

“Why shouldn’t they live on our road?” Dad says, as we drive home. “If they can afford the house.”

***

Forty percent of the workforce on Wisconsin dairy farms is of Hispanic or Latino origin. Naturally, many of them are undocumented. The farmers are so worried they will leave that they even give them paid days off to lobby.

It’s another one of dad’s refrains: no one around here wants to milk anymore. They’re too good to milk for the wages on offer.

He hates cows, himself.

***

Two weeks ago, I’m sitting in my local café overhearing three male high school students doing their social studies homework on the presidential campaign.

“Hillary is such a bitch,” one of them observes, and the other two nod. “If she’s elected, the country’s going into the crapper.”

“That bitch,” another one of them echoes. The third nods, seriously.

Kids don’t usually speak this violently unless they are emulating an example. It’s confusing to figure out how to be an adult and sometimes it’s easiest to try on other people’s opinions — just to see how they sound. Also, I’ve spent enough time with eighteen-year-old males to know that many of them are working through Oedipal issues at this point.

But I wonder who has told them this.

***

A friend tells me that her daughter came home and reported that her classroom teacher told the class that Donald Trump is not a womanizer or a misogynist.

Her daughter attends sixth grade in a local public school.

***

There are Jews in the city, but not many.

My best friend from high school posts a cartoon about how the little guy doesn’t have to put up with certain things anymore. In the image, a group of men with hooked noses, glasses, funny eyes and stubble are seated around a circular table staring at a pile of dollars in the middle. Under the table are dozens of dead bodies.

I comment, “You know this is an anti-Semitic cartoon, right?”

She replies, “Yeah, but it’s so true.”

Three people we went to high school “like” her reply.

Her mother is dying now, so I leave it alone.

I report the post to Facebook.

Within three hours Facebook decides the cartoon does not violate community standards and recommends that I block my best friend from high school.

~ by Servetus on October 22, 2016.

29 Responses to “That’s just the way it is”

  1. Your writing should be read by a wider audience. The vignette with the high school students is quite sobering.

    • Hard to fathom such overt racism – but birria – keep working on him. Pozole I can take or leave. Fridays and Saturdays, all the locals hit the “restaurants” ( pop-up places, really residential houses) with their own containers – sometimes buckets, to take some home for the family.

  2. 😦
    In my experience it is often the places with the least diversity that have the greatest amount of racism… Then again, it doesn’t mean there isn’t any racism in the more diverse places… Where I live has quite some diversity, yet here too you can feel it all around.

  3. Your post makes me feel sad. I don’t know why people are like this. My sister in law blocked me because I had a ‘discussion’ with one her friends on facebook and she chimed in to chide me by saying why can’t we agree to disagree and all try and get along – to which I responded I would be glad to accept your friend is a racist. She blocked me. No loss, I don’t associate with people who defend racists. There is no defense.

    • that’s just it. It’s not a political disagreement, which we could have about plenty of things — it’s just hate. Plain and simple. This election has created this situation where it’s become acceptable to express hate and call it a political opinion.

      I’m really very careful about my RL social media and fairly selective about who I let in. I’ve just blocked her because I could not handle the discussion that was going on, and frankly, I don’t want to be friends with her IRL anymore if she posts anti-Semitic material and won’t take it down.

      • I read or heard a journalist or broadcaster talk about (paraphrasing & a little editorial) how he always knew that there was this kind of hate and racism, sexism ( I think we all did), but it was done quietly or in friendly circles – but to witness it now, having a loud, unapologetic voice is sickening – we’re taken like 100 steps backward.

        • absolutely agree.

        • Oh yes. There have been times in the last ten years where I’ve felt that things really are getting better, especially for LGTBQ+, but lately, the temperature of political discussions, and hearing people talk, it’s so cold. And feels like something must have been always there, people were just better at hiding their ugly opinions. So was the feeling of improvement just an illusion. It’s sad.
          Then again, things are better too in some ways. But yeah.

          • And it’s also why history is so interesting, and terrifying. We think that humanity has learned and those terrible things won’t happen again, and look back in horror. But we haven’t evolved, we still have the same potential for those things to happen. Makes you realise how important little actions and words of compassion are. The fight against darkness will never be over completely.

          • It’s a reaction to political correctness in its extreme. That was Trump’s whole draw.

            • Maybe. I think I’d put it as a reaction to the changing social hierarchies that political correctness made visible. The problem wasn’t what any social group wanted to be called or how they wanted activities to be referred to (in that case I’m thinking of things like ‘date rape’) — it was that they had the guts to insist upon those things in the first place.

              • You seem to be saying that it was because of the success of the efforts of those who insisted on change. I agree. I’m also thinking about turn arounds in other areas, like real action against government displaying the confederate flag, talks to change the names of long-standing parkways, schools, etc, flack about the names of sports teams ( Indians, Redskins, Redmen) – I think of how so many people say ” Indians I mean Native Americans ” while winking an eye, and more – not to mention negative labels on women. I thought, as I commented before in referene to some journalist that it was under the radar, that “most” people had come around – what I didn’t count on was that there are more “fewer” than I thought.

                • Hmm. I had some of those things in mind.

                  We have a big discussion about the whole Native American sports team question in this house (well, Native American affairs are a big topic of discussion here generally b/c of how treaty rights affect the hunting / fishing seasons, but the concrete problem is that school the girls go to and my dad went to has an Indian mascot). I don’t think it’s about the name per se, although it always gets cast as a discussion about the name (and whether calling a sports team “Indians” is pejorative or honoring of people). It’s about the fact that there’s someone out there who can now say “I am here and I don’t like how that name represents me.” I don’t know that people who represent the “politically correct” POV in this particular case are actually more powerful, but their speech has become more noticeable and perhaps their opinions are more widely shared. But to me the issue is “why should I have to change what I’m saying, I wasn’t saying anything wrong, if you are telling me there was something wrong with that, it’s not my problem, who are you anyway to be able to tell me how to think / speak?” The problem behind this could be articulated as: “I have always decided how you will be represented and I am not accepting a change in that hierarchy or my power to decide how to talk about you.”

                  OTOH, while the proponents of changing the name are correct to point out that arguing that you’re honoring something by associating it with a group of low social status is an ex post facto justification for a weird kind of colonialism in which we fetishize precisely the thing we’ve (almost) extinguished, they are IMO wrong to think that changing or erasing those names is going to change the status of or general social regard for the social group. I think language matters, too, obviously — I am very focused on how people say things, but I don’t ever make the mistake of thinking it’s the whole story.

        • completely true, same here😦

  4. oops, didn’t mean glad to accept your friend is a racist! I meant to say I would be glad to agree to disagree and get along EXCEPT your friend is a racist.

  5. The more things change, the more they stay the same time. I’m not surprised about the hate and racism. It’s just now that it’s so open, I can identify the racists more readily.

  6. I’ve been thinking a lot about this post since I read it earlier today. I consider myself lucky to live in Greater Vancouver, an extremely diverse region. 2016 census figures are not available yet and would show higher figures, but 2011 figures show 45% of our population are of visible minority groups, with the highest numbers being Chinese (18% of population) and South Asian (11% of population). While there is still racism in the region, I am privileged to work in an organization where diversity is valued and enjoyed. 60% of our top leadership team are people who are each of a different visible minority and are immigrants. The remaining 40% have at least one parent who was an immigrant. All employees receive training in intercultural competency. We celebrate and share cultural events, often through sharing of culture-specific food (and yes there are good Thai restaurants nearby! ). We are all enriched by working together in this way and it saddens me that many people do not understand how our society benefits from embracing diversity and welcoming what everyone brings to the table.

  7. A painful and sobering read. I get the impression that after improving for a while, racism is worsening again – it definitely is in my country. It’s one of those things I really don’t understand. Your race, religion etc. shouldn’t be relevant – your character and behavior should.

  8. Sad. I sometimes wonder whether humanity will EVER overcome racism.

  9. We are all the wise people had gone? Are they hiding somewhere,Servetus?
    Nationalists,racists,miniature despots and misogynists are on the rise again in my country:(

  10. I think good economic times for some years have probably taken the focus off some of these issues, but now that times are harder again these things seem to resurface or come into focus again. And regardless of where in the world, same issues. The communists also used nationalistic slogans and rhetoric to disguise economic problems. Wrongly, because there is no disguise, these problems run in parallel and need specific solutions.

    It’s so sad and i ask myself always how i would be like growing up differently. As it happens we have 3 religions and at least 2 nationalities in my family and in town as well. I know how i feel at the moment, being made to feel as an outsider/foreigner, but i can’t even begin to imagine how it is to live like this all your life😦 It used to be just people at borders suddenly and abruptly changing attitudes when they see the passport. Aggression seems to be now out in the open and acceptable. It used to just make me angry and frustrated, currently developments have more to do with fear.

    I wish there was a way to make people switch lives even if only for a day, to make them feel what it is like to be excluded, looked down upon or worse for no reason you can influence or you have any control over. It’s the only thing i can think of which could permanently change peoples’ attitudes…

  11. I wanted to thank everyone for their comments and apologize for not being to respond to the last several. I appreciated reading all of them, though.

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