Just Friday I had one of those disorienting, it can’t be happening, yet I’m present, so it must be, experiences. Maybe it was the fact that we were getting real rain- something that hasn’t happened in mid November around here in years- or that my teenage daughter had run one of those ‘you are so insensitive” rants because I had used twelve words, when one would have been more than enough for her sensibilities. It could also have been that I had just come into the locker room at the Y after doing my peak strength exercise with a new weight, and was breathing heavy.
But in hindsight those are routine aspects of daily life. This was something else. As I peeled off my socks, I could swear I heard a conversation about race. I paused to focus on the voices. Yes. Two men it sounded like. One voice said something like “It’s from an old slave song ‘ massa laying in the cold ground’ and the other replying ” you wish”. I sat up.
My Y is fairly small, modest, especially considering it is located solidly in a semi rural community that by real estate, median income, and the letters to the editor in the local weekly can be defined as the one percent. While I have seen black people at the Y, the diversity quotient is low. So this was social, political and geographic displacement.
The voices continued about the failure of the GOP to engage the population as it is, and the unconscious racism apparent in so many statements like ‘take back America”. I got up to go see who this could be in the shower room, talking race in the heart of rich white people land. Two white men. One of them nodded to me acknowledging my entrance. “I just had to see it to believe my ears” I said. “Two white men talking about race.”
“Two old white men” he answered. To which the other said “Surprised?” As I nodded, he asked “maybe we should Google map it.” They went right back to the topic. In short order they had listed a half dozen examples of how GOP politicians, ranging from the Romney campaign down to a local state district, had said things they found racially offensive and insensitive. Two more men walked into this and joined in.
“No wonder they can’t win with only white people” said the first. “They didn’t even get all of those” replied the other. “Lots of rich white people prefer Obama apparently” said one of the originators.
A debate broke out over just how large of our community’s 5800 or so registered voters would have voted for Obama ( estimates ranged from 15 to 40% ) and what the turnout actually was ( over 74% using the eight precincts in the local Fire district –someone had actually looked it up on the county website). Lots of laughter punctuated the disagreements.
Eventually seven men in various stages of undress engaged in this discussion. An eighth, who I know to be a solid GOP man, passed in, showed and out listening but making no comments.
The range of opinion expressed was both dismissive and disrespectful of the authors of such racism, as well as disappointed and lamenting. “I just wish I knew what party I wanted to be a part of now” said one of the joiners. “I liked Ike, but I don’t know if he would even be part of this crowd today”.
As I dressed seated near my locker, another man who had just arrived, paused in the process of unloading his gym bag. “Is that a bunch of white guys talking about racism?” he asked. I nodded. “What do they know?” he laughed.
By the time I had got in my car, I was pretty sure I had been delirious, in some sort of lactic acid/oxygen debt induced hallucination, if only I had worked out that hard. I did a personal inventory. I had forgotten my sunglasses. Back in the locker room, one of the people from my hallucination was just on his way out.
“Say did I just imagine that a bunch of old white guys was in here talking about racism in the campaign?”. He shook his head ‘no’. “Makes me a lot more comfortable coming here” he said as he passed through the exit.