A recent altercation at our local Farmer’s Market got me to thinking about how segregated the world has become. While everybody on National Public Radio celebrates the "Rainbow Coalition," and George Bush tries to get the Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites to kiss and make up, I notice that I am friends with fewer black people than I used to be. I once had lots of real black friends, but now I just seem to wave to a few black people in the distance. How did the post-Civil Rights world ever get to be so segregated?
When I was growing up, black kids went to the black elementary school on the other side of town. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where there was no official segregation, but our schools were informally segregated, because neighborhoods were. College was the first place where most of us made real friends from other races.
In college, a black friend and I would get together and play cards in her dorm room, while singing Supremes songs. For those of you who don’t know, the Supremes were a black girl group out of Motown (Detroit). We were immensely flattered when someone told us she thought we had been playing Supremes records in there–we were that good.
In those days you got your radio from the nearest big city, which in this case was Detroit–local radio was mostly farm reports–so I knew all those great Motown songs. One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that they CLEANED UP THE LYRICS when the music went national. It started out really raunchy (if you don’t know where the term "rock and roll" came from, THINK about it for a minute).
One of my favorite college racial incidents was when a white friend of mine interviewed a Chinese exchange student for the school paper. She said that all Americans looked the same to her, she couldn’t tell them apart.
When I was in graduate school, I sometimes went out for drinks with a black classmate and her husband, who was a successful executive. She told me that he had been made to take the service elevator one time when he arrived for a meeting in a high rise building (and this was in New York City!) And yes, I dated a couple of black guys.
The altercation I referred to occurred when I stopped at a farm stand where a black teacher had brought a group of elementary-school kids, who were also black, to see the produce. They were gathered in front of the potatoes, which were laid out in an extraordinary array of colors: white, yellow, red and purple. As I was reaching around the group to gather up some of them, one of the children stepped backwards and I patted him on the shoulder so that he would know I was there and not stumble into me. The teacher instantly turned on me, eyes blazing, and shouted, "You didn’t have to PUSH him!" I explained, "I wasn’t pushing him, I was PATTING him," and I patted the teacher on the arm to demonstrate. I?m not sure he believed me, since he seemed to want to be angry at someone, probably for the many sins that had been visited on him in the past, like my friend’s elevator humiliation.
I notice that in TV commercials–especially beer commercials, for some reason–the world is portrayed as very integrated, with white and black friends interacting in easy camaraderie, but reality doesn’t seem to have caught up with that ideal yet. In my experience, whites and blacks don’t socialize with each other much, and Asians seem to stick together as well. Jews intermingle but seem to be most comfortable with each other.
We’re starting a film production company that, so far, contains 2 Jews, 2 Gentiles, 1 Scotsman and 1 Black. I think we should get a Hispanic and an Asian so we’ll be fully integrated.
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