Racism Wearing a New Hat Rears Its Ugly Head

"The Moody House"
We had just gotten home on Saturday, when two black women walked up to the kitchen door. Attractive, smiling, there was an openness about them that made me rethink my original dismissive appraisal: Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As I corralled the dogs, the older of the two said to Stanley, “Hi. We used to live here. We were hoping we could come in and see the house—”

“Oh,” Stanley cried, “You’re Moodys!”

They seemed surprised we knew who they were. I guess they don’t know they are practically legendary. In fact, nine years after we bought it, our house is still referred to as “The Moody House.” We’d, of course, heard about the Moodys before. A local realtor, who spoke highly of the family, once told us that when her own daughters had held a party which her mother chaperoned, her mother had called her in a panic and whispered there’s a black kid dancing in the garage with the girls!” Her response? “That’s not a black kid, that’s Moody!”

We took them—they turned out to be Mr. Moody’s daughter and grand-daughter—through the house
What is now the library was Kim Moody's bedroom.
and they shared memories and answered our questions. Towards the end of the visit, after they’d cried, and thanked us for taking care of the house, Kim who had lived here for thirty-some-odd years, asked us, “What’s the neighborhood like?”

I forget my answer but it wasn’t until after they’d left that I realized there was more to her question. 

The Moodys had bought our house in the 70s. They had been the first black family to buy a house in East Falls. A title search had revealed that the couple who’d sold the Moodys the house had held the mortgage. Most likely because, as a black buyer in what was then an all-white neighborhood, Mr. Moody had been unable to secure a mortgage through a commercial bank. That this occurred in the 70s, dismays me.

Remembering that, I wondered how I should have answered Kim’s question.

On our block, I’m one of three black people. There are more gay couples than black people. With the exception of a couple of “A-list queens,” who don’t speak to anybody, everyone has been welcoming and inclusive. But racism does raise its head from time to time.

There is a woman in the neighborhood—I’ll call her Lily. Reasonably intelligent and seemingly liberal and without prejudice, she remarked the first time she heard me speak publically, “You are so articulate.” The second time she heard me speak she came up to me afterwards and said, “You express yourself so well.” The first time she walking out of our house she stopped in her tracks, looked at the house and exclaimed “You live there?!”

Once, as I was raking leaves to the curb, a city worker who was picking up the leaves asked how I’d gotten the job raking leaves at this house. “It’s my house,” I explained. “I live here.” He glanced up at the house again, then at me. “You live here?” I could forgive his surprise. He was after all black and ours is still perceived as a white neighborhood. I could forgive his surprise in a way I could not forgive Lily’s.

When we first moved to East Falls, we got a flyer under our door telling us Halloween was being celebrated a week earlier than the calendar date. We thought this odd but went along with it. And in truth Stanley had a blast giving out candy to the children in costume. This went on for several years until younger people started moving into the neighborhood and questioned the practice. It then came out that neighbors had started the practice of the early Halloween in large part to avoid having to open their doors to the black children from the projects in the neighborhood. So, neighbors would discreetly pass around the date of the “East Falls Halloween” then on actual Halloween everyone would turn out their porch lights and not answer their doors.

It’s been my experience that racism is subtle and often catches one off guard. In my interracial romance, What Binds Us, this happens twice to main character Thomas Edward.

The following scene occurs when Matthew and Dondi, both of whom are white, take Thomas, who is black, to a black tie ball at a country club on Long Island.

Matthew snorted and walked off in the direction of the bar. I was standing alone, waiting for him to return with our drinks, trying unsuccessfully not to feel out-of place when a dowager thrust her empty glass at me. “A refill, please,” she said.

Matthew took my arm, handing me a gin and tonic. “He’s a guest,” he told her. As we walked away, I turned. “We’re not all waiters anymore, you know,” I told her. She at least had the good grace to be embarrassed; her white arrogance changed to scarlet shame.

Matthew led me outside. “I’m so sorry that happened,” he said, blushing.

The second incident occurs at a hospital where Dondi is an inpatient. Thomas, as Dondi’s best friend and primary caretaker, tells the doctor they will be stopping treatment.

We were utterly silent as first one doctor then another droned on about grotesque invasive procedures, experimental and useless.

“No,” I said, interrupting one monologue.

“Excuse me? What did you say?” the interrupted monologist, a kindly and bespectacled senior physician with brilliantine hair, asked.

“No,” I repeated. “I said ‘no.’”

“No, what?” he asked wearily, removing his glasses and polishing them to further brilliance in that white light.

“No more pills. No more impossible treatments. We’re taking him home.”

The doctor glanced at Matthew and Colin. I intercepted the look. I stood and leaned toward him, my palms splayed on the table. “Do not think,” I said through gritted teeth, “that because I am black I am not a part of this family.”

Recently during an astonishingly vitriolic debate about a proposed new playground in McMichael Park, it was suggested that instead of the park a playground should be added to the Mifflin school—a long time neighborhood school, currently at about 50% capacity and whose students are mostly black. Odd in a-neighborhood that is overwhelmingly white.

The original post on Next Door East Falls
One person, calling it a “heretical thought” posted the following on the community bulletin board, Next Door East Falls:

“…there is an 800-pound gorilla in the room that everyone pretends not to see, and will go to great lengths to avoid confronting the truth about their choices. I wouldn't send my own kids to Mifflin unless a critical mass of other middle class (and mostly white, to be perfectly honest) parents choose to do the same. …I choose to be honest. Most people feel the same way but refuse to admit to themselves certain uncomfortable truths…”

I found his post disturbing but ultimately not surprising. What I found more disturbing was not so much that no one challenged him on this but that a few people actually “thanked” him for posting.


The sad truth is eight years into the country’s first black presidency, we are still not  a nation that is “post-race”— arguably we should be, but we are not. Racism simply put on a new hat and stepped into the shadows.

Feel free to comment below, or share your own experience with racism, or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook.

Comments

  1. Hi Larry.....I seem to have replied in the wrong place earlier(your goodreads page). I'm reposting below:


    Why would you find my post on Nextdoor disturbing? I simply stated out loud what anybody with simple powers of observation can see right in front of them. It takes a great deal of willful ignorance not to notice that the residential pattern is at odds with local school demographics. White people are afraid to send their kids to a black school, yet the only reason a school is "black" is *because* of this. To be perfectly honest, this fear is not entirely irrational. I could write an entire book on the racially motivated violence and intimidation I faced as a white kid growing up in Germantown. Of course I could also write another book on all of the friendships I had as well.

    My point it this: Black people do not have a monopoly on the harms caused to them by racial and ethnic conflict – we all have injuries.

    If anything, my post was intended to make white people (or, more accurately, middle-class people in general) think about sending their kids to Mifflin, which is something I should think you would support. If you want an integrated public school in East Falls, then you should support open and frank discussion rather than the usual condescension and scolding. On the other hand, if you’d prefer to watch white people tap-dance while sending their children to private school or just move when their children become school aged, carry on as usual - it’s worked wonders thus far.

    Almost nobody admits their true motives – all I did was tell the truth and I do not apologize for it. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jamelle Bouie both make the exact same observations regularly in their writings. Why is it verboten for me to bring forward these very same obvious truths? Could it be the same reason that the black city worker gets a pass for making assumptions about you while Lily goes unforgiven? And why should people feel a sense of shame for "thanking" my post? These reflexive shamings have to end before we can move forward with any sort of resolution.

    On to other things…

    These microagressions you complain of (“you’re so articulate”, “you live here?”, etc.) are the result of an oppressive fear that strangles us into uncomfortable awkwardness. Everybody knows this instinctively. In a pathetic attempt to win approbation, a tendency exists among white people to commit the unpardonable sin of complimenting black people where it wouldn’t otherwise be warranted. Hence microagressions. Wouldn’t you prefer to do away with the phony niceties? But I will say this: you ARE very articulate, by any standard. If this upsets you, we can call it a nanoagression and move on to the next point.


    Quote:
    “The sad truth is eight years into the country’s first black presidency, we are still not a nation that is “post-race”— arguably we should be, but we are not. Racism simply put on a new hat and stepped into the shadows.”

    This is a tired meme, and an incredibly lazy one at that. I don’t fault you for regurgitating it, as it’s been repeated so often that it’s accepted as an article of faith by the great majority.

    We live in an age where any truly honest discussion on issues of race can make a person unemployable for taking the “wrong” side. The screws are always tightening, and it’s difficult to say where the “right side of history” ™ lies at any given moment. What was perfectly acceptable for Hillary Clinton to say in the ‘90s (re: “superpredators”, etc.) sounds like Hitler reincarnated in 2016. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was once seen as a reasonable compromise, and that was only a blink of an eye ago. Frustration always seeks an outlet, and the internet serves that purpose very well. But the internet is forever. With all of this in mind, it’s perfectly understandable that dog whistles and pseudonyms are now the norm. This is more the result of the internet age than of a black president. You complain of racism lurking in the shadows, yet my relatively benign post on Nextdoor was posted out in the open. Which do you prefer?

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    Replies
    1. “Why would you find my post on Nextdoor disturbing?”

      Yes I found your post disturbing. This seems to disturb you. Don’t let it. As a writer I have learned that what you think you are saying is not always what others hear as they listen through a filter of their selfishness, perceptions, preferences, petty hatreds, etc. After the shitstorm one of my earlier posts created, I know this to be true.

      “It takes a great deal of willful ignorance not to notice that the residential pattern is at odds with local school demographics.”

      Ummm…I pointed this out: “a long time neighborhood school, currently at about 50% capacity and whose students are mostly black. Odd in a-neighborhood that is overwhelmingly white.”
      Oh look a point of agreement.

      “I could write an entire book on the racially motivated violence and intimidation I faced as a white kid growing up in Germantown."

      Oh honey, as a black, gay kid who went to mostly white schools at a time when bullying was seen as mere “teasing,” I could wrote two books.

      “Black people do not have a monopoly on the harms caused to them by racial and ethnic conflict – we all have injuries.”

      Yes, I think we can agree on that but let me point out that historically we have suffered more at the hands of white people than white people have suffered at the hands of black people

      “If anything, my post was intended to make white people (or, more accurately, middle-class people in general) think about sending their kids to Mifflin, which is something I should think you would support.”

      I support a good local school. I think the way to get that is through active parental involvement. I think many of the parents and particularly Friends of Mifflin school are doing a great job at being involved and encouraging others to stay involved. I know firsthand that it is often easier to run than to stay and fight but also that when you cannot run you have no choice but to stay and fight.

      “you ARE very articulate, by any standard.”

      Thank you. Honestly, thank you. This does not upset me because I realize you mean it and you don’t come across as “gee I’m surprised you’re articulate being black and all.” I realize you probably are not getting the difference so you’ll have to trust me on this one.

      Racism Wearing a New Hat Rears Its Ugly Head—What, you didn’t like my title? You called it tired. And yeah it is. You know was a writer, as a wordsmith I chose my words very carefully—that title is deliberately tired and harkens back to what has been heard before, much like discussions of race which lead nowhere but trace the same track over and over, kicking up controversy and stomping opinions into something hard and unyielding. If you follow the thread of racism described in the article you’ll notice that—some things have changed (Halloween for example) and, others have not.

      Anyway thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

      Delete
    2. Hi Larry, I had to break my reply into two parts due to a 4096 character limit:

      (PART 1 OF 2):

      "Yes I found your post disturbing. This seems to disturb you. Don’t let it."

      If it disturbs you that I feel liberated enough to say what's on my mind, then I have a problem with you. If what is on my mind is what disturbs you, that's fair enough. (I hope that made sense)

      I did not mean to imply that you were among the willfully ignorant regarding the demographic situation at Mifflin. You clearly are not. I was speaking of the great mass of cowardly whites who invent all manner of excuses as to why they don't want to send their own kids there. These are always the same people who seem to think that bad teachers and administrators are wholly to blame for the situation. They also tend to be a bit too quick to accuse other people of racism - an act of projection to be sure.

      "Oh honey, as a black, gay kid who went to mostly white schools at a time when bullying was seen as mere “teasing,” I could wrote two books."

      Fair enough. But you have to admit that it's far safer in 2016 for a black kid in a mostly white school than the inverse. And nobody really cares about gayness anymore. You almost have to be brave to admit you're straight these days!

      "let me point out that historically we have suffered more at the hands of white people than white people have suffered at the hands of black people"

      My life experience doesn't extend as far back as the 1960's, nor does it take me as far as Montgomery Alabama.

      Economic suffering aside (admittedly a huge thing to set aside), almost all of the interracial violence I have seen or personally experienced has been black thugs attacking innocent white victims. Once every decade or so, some sensational story will arise where some white peckerwoods with racial motives commit an act of unspeakable cruelty against some hapless black person. When this happens, it's international news for months. Racially motivated attacks against whites, at the very least a weekly occurrence in any US city, are almost always ignored in the media. But that's to be expected because Pettus Bridge. This is a huge part of the reason why we have a bunch of angry white guys who might actually elect an imbecilic reality TV star for president.

      Delete
    3. (PART 2 OF 2):

      I will share with you my own Halloween experience, circa 1989: I was about 13 years old, and it was the first year that I opted to stay home and give out candy to kids rather than trick-or-treat myself. Among the first to visit my door were a bunch of uncostumed thugs in t-shirts. I asked them, "what are you supposed to be?". The reply was "Yo Mamma", at which point I was shoved and the entire bowl of candy was taken from me.

      In your account, you suffered a mere microagression because those mean white people from East Falls didn't want to open their doors to kids from the projects, people they perceived as dangerous. For sharing this story you will likely receive an outpouring of sympathy from a sycophantic horde of (mostly white) commenters who seek your validation. I was physically assaulted by kids who were most likely from the projects (I lived a few blocks from the Queen Lane High-Rise), confirming the "irrational" fears of your evil racist neighbors. For this, nobody cares. Because Medgar Evers.

      I know this story seems a bit convenient, but it really did happen. Call BS is you want, but this is only one of countless incidents just from the top of my head.

      Prejudice is the result of postjudice. Previous experiences shape how we proceed in the future. We depend on this for survival, yet a lot of us also wind up dead for the very same reason. I wish I had the answer to this conundrum.

      "I support a good local school. I think the way to get that is through active parental involvement."

      I agree. Which magical spell do you propose we use to accomplish this?

      "I know firsthand that it is often easier to run than to stay and fight but also that when you cannot run you have no choice but to stay and fight."

      Obviously there are still other choices, or we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. The Catholic school was a convenient escape, but people can and will move elsewhere. What we need is a coordinated effort whereby a large mass of middle class parents simultaneously enroll their kids and "Make Mifflin Great Again!" (Sorry, I couldn't resist...).

      P.S.: Thank you for not being a pussy.

      Delete
    4. "If it disturbs you that I feel liberated enough to say what's on my mind, then I have a problem with you. If what is on my mind is what disturbs you, that's fair enough. (I hope that made sense)"

      If you’ll read through this blog, or any of my books you’ll know I tend to speak my mind so no, I don’t have a problem with you stating what’s on your mind. What was on your mind was disturbing but now knowing what is behind it, I get why you said what you did.

      "And nobody really cares about gayness anymore. You almost have to be brave to admit you're straight these days!"

      Ok that made me laugh. I generally don’t feel threatened, and thing s have certainly gotten better but many of my gay brothers and sisters—especially the young ones are still in danger.

      “In your account, you suffered a mere microagression because those mean white people from East Falls didn't want to open their doors to kids from the projects, people they perceived as dangerous.”

      To clarify, I didn’t suffer. It wasn’t about me even though I’m black. I will point out that my husband, who is white, does Halloween duty and he has given out candy to everyone who comes to our door for 16 years and there’s never been an incident.
      Irrelevant aside: We were never allowed to go trick-or-treating as kids; my parents’ stance, off repeated, was: We’re not poor. We can afford to buy you candy, so there’s no reason you need to go around begging.

      “Previous experiences shape how we proceed in the future. We depend on this for survival…”

      Agreed. We are all a product of our experience. Sometimes we need to let that experience go. Other times, we cannot and should not. Knowing how your experience colored your original post I’m less disturbed by what you said; now I’m just disturbed you’ve had the experience you’ve had.

      “P.S.: Thank you for not being a pussy.”

      Back at ya, Kid.

      Delete
  2. I wish that social/cultural/civil change wasn't such a slow-moving force. Sometimes I look at the world today and compare it to the world as it was when I was born, and I think, 'Wow! Things are so much better.' But then when I hear about the experiences you recount, I wonder if people can ever settle into a state of peaceful and respectful coexistence. The little things can simply be ignorance, but at the same time they seem to point to where change is still needed. I'm always happy to read thoughts that raise my awareness and pray they will help me not to be clueless and insensitive. (BTW, that early Halloween collusion blew my mind! A whole neighborhood... smh)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know a lot has changed. At 6 I said I wanted to marry a boy. Nearly half a century later I was able to. When our great aunt came here in the 40s from St Croix she worked as a maid in hotels--the only jobs open to her. We three, her great nephews are all college educated professionals.

      Even in this blog post you can see that things have changed here. Change is still needed in the world but it will come. I do think, as you say, a lot of it is simply ignorance so I like to think by speaking our I can educate and perhaps change some minds.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Delete
  3. At the closing for our house in East Falls two years ago the seller told us Halloween happens in the alleyway behind the block because the neighborhood has "busing issues" on Halloween. Things haven't changed that much.

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    Replies
    1. Yikes! That's disheartening. I had no idea. I suppose this still happens in pockets within the neighborhood.

      Delete
  4. To my knowledge, there is no secret Halloween in East Falls currently. With respect to school options, St. Bridget, before its unfortunate closure, was a choice for religious reasons and that is where I educated my two children and where I was educated. With respect to school choices, I had the unfortunate experience 25 to 30 years ago, of observing my new neighbors move to the suburbs once they had school age children; so not much has changed as I read the earlier commentary. I think it is imperative for Mifflin to provide a sound, excellent and diversified learning experience in order to continue to maintain East Falls as an attractive community for younger families!

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