A colleague of mine held a dinner party in his new apartment in a neighborhood of New York City that for the past few years has been experiencing an economic resurgence. A shift in the caliber of businesses and the style of residents was immediately noticeable upon this most recent visit. Pawn shops had been replaced by Starbucks. Jittery crack whores were no longer able to hustle in between the throngs of successfully invitro-fertilized middle-aged mothers pushing their triple seat strollers. Even the rough neck street thugs seemed to have abandoned their business corners for bleaker pastures, given the more modern novelty of a constant police presence. The neighborhood officially lost its ghetto credibility last winter when the Newport "alive with pleasure" billboard was permanently retired.
The apartment layout demonstrated the gilded bouquet of trust fund decor. Clearly, this tenant's eye-catching, grown up furniture, created by skilled barn potters, was light years ahead of the dangers of Ikea particle board degeneration syndrome that I face with the furniture of my lower income lifestyle.
I was most struck by the beauty of a large collection of antique African tribal masks. These ornately carved, rich mahogany faces were certainly stoic if not possibly scornful for being reduced to spend the next few decades as wall art trivia for the amusement of a cavalier white guy. I wonder if the deserved African inheritor of the masks would feel an even exchange having my friend's suburban Prom portraits taken under a spinning disco ball behind a backdrop of shooting neon stars to adorn the walls of his dwelling.
I find assumptions of racism to be especially maddening, not to mention thorny to maneuver through when cavorting with the upper echelon of academically advantaged white adults in a culturally progressive city like New York. Normally, among this seemingly liberal minded crowd, racism is expressed with excruciating subtlety, often manifesting itself in nonverbal decisions as the result of hard-line class indoctrination that frowns upon the commonness of racist affirmation. So I was especially shocked when a rather bookish female guest leaned into me during the dessert course to inform me that she was thinking of moving into this neighborhood now that it's "not as dark."
Fortunately, I've seen more than enough late 1970s and early 1980s situation comedy very special episodes to know the proper handling of this form of bigotry. I cleared my throat and with the fictional support of my extended television family that includes Arnold Jackson, Willis Jackson, Kimberly Drummond, Mr. D., Mrs. Garrett, The Gooch, Tutti Ramsey, Mr. T., George and Weezy Jefferson, Florence, Rerun, Raj, Duane, Dee, Florida, James, JJ, Wilona, Michael, Thelma, Bookman, Sweet Daddy and Penny, as well as the consent of the room's faction of authentically African deities, I boldly declared her racism.
I had foolishly expected the thunderous applause of a live studio television audience. Instead, my remark was followed by a few angrily pleaded defense clichés from "I have black friends" to "give me a fucking break! I was raised by a black woman for Christ's sake."
Exploring the condescension underscoring her friendships, deconstructing the context of her childhood housekeeper's maternal skills and explaining a unified theory of class, race and gender inequity was proving to be an enormous strain under the impending guttural finale of some poorly digested baba ganouch. Faced with hashing it all out or prematurely leaving the dinner party, knowing the reality that I was at least 23 subway stops away from the trusted privacy of my bathroom, I ashamedly abandoned my cause for justice like a true coward to head back into Manhattan to take a shit.