What’s the postal address of Race in America?
Angry Young White Man — he lives in a malignant fantasy of lost spoils of the once great white race — in my presence, at this restaurant bar, exploded about something that had irked him that day and invoked the always convenient ‘damn f–king niggers.’ In my presence. Of course, my sad scaredy-cat behind froze. Next, would he shoot me? Maybe throw a really smoldering fry at me? He’d come in loud and aggrieved and had started bombasting quite early on. Was he already high? I didn’t know. He looked unimaginably callow, frail. Did he say those things because he saw a solitary woman of color at the bar and that switched something on?
But he was there with his mother. And he’d said that to his mother.
I’m a mother of a confused young man. After my initial freeze started thawing some, I felt an infinite sadness for this young man stirred into my pathetic scaredy-cat-ness. (Trying to to be completely self-aware, completely honest here, for the sake of my own soul and not for anyone else I can pretend to save or rescue). Because his mother and the bart — a thirty-something white woman — both shushed him and lit into him. And then he argued with them, tried to justify himself, asked what was so wrong with what he’d said about Race in America, tried to hit on the bart (so many demons to fight!). . . .
But then he just lost air. Utterly. Offered to buy me a drink. Warned me about having too many drinks. Said the police would be pretty merciless with me if they found me driving drunk. I think he was trying to make it right. I do think that.
But what if his mother hadn’t been there and the bart lady hadn’t shushed him?
And yet, I, the mother of a mixed-race American teenager, feel stricken, partly for him? Why? Why don’t I just curse this unrealized twerp to hell? Why don’t I hate him? Because I parent a teen male who can equally trash talk, if about less heinous, more merely obstreperous, topics? Because male rage and white rage are equally ubiquitous and equally painful to watch? Because this white boy’s soft-eyed white mother’s shame and rage made me focus on her pain as much as on my near-disbelief that I was, finally, facing, about two feet away from me that much-talked-about, much-dreaded white male rage? Because when I left the mother was staring down at the counter, her face a study of a Madonna, and the son, actually cowed, was trying to jive her back into acknowledging him?
Or, because the effing POTUS has screwed this boy over by promising him both a past of imagined suffering at the hands of minorities, and a future of ecstatic revenge over those minorities, especially those ‘damn f–king niggers’?
Is this boy the problem for political blackness and for all people of color, or is he a pawn? Am I too soft on his blind white, inarticulate male rage and defeated desire for a harmony that he can neither define nor achieve except at the cost of following — blinded, staggering — a great white father who’s shamelessly sold his own and his sons’ souls to other devils, and finally falling face down into whatever swamp history dug for him a long time ago?
Where do you think this happened? In which American city?
Readers, I’d love to have you write in your guesses. And do you know why I’d especially like that? It’s because I’d like hard, clear light trained on my own ignorance and blind spots about Race in America. Because during the early part of this emotional crossfire I was silently gnashing my teeth, thinking ‘look at how degenerate the people of this so-called convivial and loose-jointed state are,’ and was feeling mildly better after wriggling myself into that self-positioning of immunity from these ‘degenerate people’ (even though I live in Texas, a whole other emotional crossfire scenario), when I overheard that mother and son were actually former Texans from Odessa (remember ‘No Country for Old Men’? or, really, anyone other than rich white men?).
Imagine my confusion! So NOW who was I going to blame, despise? Here, where former Texans are washed ashore no doubt as battered detritus of the tsunami called the oil industry; where I have seen in the ghostly night-time heart of the city the ‘watering hole’ called SpoonBill Conoco, of course white male rage was bubbling, bobbing up to the murky water’s surface only as much as anywhere else in America. No more, no less.
So, where am I safe? And, why am I having to ask this question?
So, this is Spoonbill Conoco. It’s a restaurant in the city where my young angry white man lives. With his sad, downcast mother. Does Spoonbill Conoco, this ghostly, abandoned joy-dispenser and relic of the heydays of Oil, hold answers to what will keep me and other ‘damn f–king niggers’ safe from white boys who cave in when their white mothers push back? Or does it quite scarily presage the future of white angst trusting in mutant political ninja turtles, and in the false messiah called fossil fuel supremacy?
Or, is this the desolate tomorrow of a once boyscout-driven place that used to be called America?