Posted by: nquest2xl | June 22, 2008

No scary, dark street needed

I think I met Barack Obama’s grandma-ma today. Not literally, of course, and I only cite Obama’s gran (probably in bad taste, so I apologize) because it helps highlight the reason why I’m making this record. When he was asked to explain how he could ever mention his grandmother in the same area code as Rev. Wright, Obama said this:

“The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, but that she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know there’s a reaction in her that doesn’t go away and it comes out in the wrong way.”

Of course that was a while ago and even when people invoke Jesse Jackson expressing the same (and much more sensible, though still misguided) racialized anxiety, they talk about it in the passing each other on a street scenario.

Well, I just had my latest introduction to this phenomenon at a restaurant. I won’t even use Obama’s terminology, “typically White”, to describe it. “Inexplicably White” works better.

What happened was simply this: Me, my wife and my 6 year old son are being seated in the restaurant. The section where we were being seated was fairly cramped, so I took the wall seat closest to the table full of elderly folks we were going to sit next to. My thinking was I didn’t want my son to be bouncing up and down in his seat bothering them. I also took the wall seat because I didn’t want them to have to walk over me to have enough room when they left before us.

Well, I guess I would have flunked Telepathy 101 because somebody’s grandma got the impression that I wanted her purse.

A quick word about that. I found myself asking myself (self?)… “What about the times when my wife moves her purse?” Well, that didn’t work because somebody’s grandma’s purse was rather snug and out of the way. She had a wall seat, too.

Admittedly, we were uncomfortably close. We were literally close enough where I could feel her reaching to grab her purse and it wasn’t to pay the bill. Their food didn’t come until after we order ours, if I remember correctly.

I never actually turned to look. Her movement, feeling it, is what got my attention. I could just see the color of her white purse out the corner of my eye moving out of the my peripheral vision. And then I felt her moving it to the center of the floor; near her feet, I guess.

I never said anything to my wife. I didn’t need confirmation. I didn’t want it. Above all, I didn’t want the aggravation. I guess that’s why I took a moment to try to rationalize the woman’s behavior. I couldn’t.

I went from, “did that $%#@# just do what I thought she did?” to everything I said about how close we were and times when my wife moves her purse from a vacant seat to: I came here, waited to be seated for 30 minutes, to pay for my food.

That’s how I finally judged her actions inexplicably White.




  1. First…I love your writing. Good stuff! may be overthinking this one. If I understood your positions (a long bench seat with individual tables?), she may have simply been maximizing the amount of space available to you both.
    Or, many women are protective of their purses and would have moved it no matter who sat next to it. I do.
    But maximizing space seems the most likely answer. When it’s crowded, I am conscious of the need to not take up more space than my fanny occupies, to give you a little room to spread if you needed to. Thus, the purse would go on the floor.

  2. Anna,

    The restaurant has individual tables with individual seats. The section we were in sat four to a table. I thought I was clear that the lady’s purse was not a “space” issue.

    Once I took the seat I did, we sat back to back and up against a wall/partition. Here purse, also, was hanging from her chair next to the wall. There was a reason why I thought about and included what my wife does with her purse and I know I said “somebody’s grandma’s purse was rather snug and out of the way.”

    Space wasn’t an issue.

  3. “Aversive racism is the inherent contradiction that exists when the denial of personal prejudice co-exists with underlying unconscious negative feelings and beliefs. Unfortunately, the negative feelings and beliefs that underlie aversive racism are rooted in normal, often adaptive, psychological processes. For instance, people generally tend to like others who are similar to them. In contrast to the feelings of open hostility and clear dislike of blacks that characterize old-fashioned racism, the negative feelings that aversive racists experience are typically more diffuse, such as feelings of anxiety and uneasiness.

    On top of all of this, because aversive racists consciously endorse egalitarian values and deny negative feelings about blacks, they will not discriminate directly and openly in ways that can be attributed to racism. However, because of their negative feelings they will, in fact, discriminate, often unintentionally, when their behavior can be justified on the basis of some factor other than race.”

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