I’m back in my hometown this weekend to attend a family funeral — it’s about the only reason we’re here anymore, after moving away to go to work for The Associated Press in 1983. There was a little incident at Dunkin’ Donuts this morning that got me to thinking about my home — and my own prejudices and biases.
Greenville, South Carolina, has changed remarkably in those 33 years. It really looks like a cool place to live: Downtown has been re-energized by an eclectic combination of restaurants and even downtown housing. The redevelopment that was just being talked about when we left has taken firm hold. I was stunned at the amount of new construction going on, most of it in or near what we used to call the Central Business District.
Despite that, every time I come home, I feel an edge to my psyche. You see, when I left there was one thing that was ahead of the nascent economic turnaround — it was a hard right turn in politics. This is the place that has sent folks like Jim DeMint and others to Congress.
This Wikipedia entry tracks my observations:
The district is the state’s wealthiest district and one of its most conservative. In the late 20th century, it has been in Republican hands since 1979, aside from a six-year stint by Democrat Liz J. Patterson, the daughter of former Senator Olin Johnston. Even before the Republicans finally took control of the seat, the 4th had been a rather conservative district. Like in most of the state, the old-line Southern Democrats began splitting their tickets as early as the 1940s. However, this area’s white conservatives became increasingly willing to support Republicans at the state and local level as early as the 1970s, well before the rest of the state swung Republican. The district is a major destination for Presidential candidates in election years, as South Carolina is one of the first states to hold a Presidential primary.
Now, when I’m back and I see all these white, highly scrubbed, SUV-driving, seemingly well-off folk crowding all the shopping malls and those trendy restaurants, I immediately feel animosity and want to lash out. (‘Course the irony that I generally fit that description as well — only my SUV is a relatively small one — is not lost on me.)
So back to the catalyst for this blog: we walked into a local Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast and there were plenty of seats available for the three of us. We placed our order, and as I turned to go sit down, I saw that the chairs that had been at all those empty tables were gone. “They took them,” my daughter said, nodding to the group of about eight or so (white) folks — two adult women and six or so young girls behind us in line.
Inside I had lots of thoughts: How arrogant! How selfish! How privileged you must feel! I looked at the woman obviously in charge, and thought, “I bet you’re a right-wing, anti-abortion, homophobic Republican woman who has no clue — or worse, doesn’t care — about the world around you, only yourself. Your group is probably a Sunday school class from one of those arch-conservative, fundamentalist, anti-science, non-denominational (or Southern Baptist) churches that flood the region and give Christianity a bad name.”
Outside, I scowled, hoped they noticed my disgusted look, and — luckily since some folk had just left — headed to a table on the other side of the shop.
I haven’t been able to get my inner reaction out of my mind since.
- What a prejudiced and bigoted reaction to have, I thought.
- Remember you’ve done the same thing — grabbed some seating in a crowded restaurant before ordering, I said to myself.
- How can you see this as an example of “white privilege” you moron, I asked myself.
You see, we all have prejudices and biases, whether we’re on the right or the left, it’s part of the human condition. It’s how we learn to cope with, fight against and mitigate the impact of those prejudices and biases that determines the kind of society we want to live in.
And it’s in the little things — as insignificant as seats in a restaurant — that we sometimes have to relearn and remember that lesson.