Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Incident

After three months of marginal employment, I'm happy to announce that I will soon re-enter the American workforce. I accepted a staff writer position at a weekly newspaper in North Carolina. I start in October. I'm excited about the new gig, but also worried that my new coworkers won't accept me as one of their own. Unfortunately, my worries are not unfounded.

The paper I'll be joining is part of what's called the alternative press. For the most part, the alternative press (free, weekly, tabloid-style papers) publishes journalism from the liberal/left perspective. The papers are openly concerned with social justice and aren't timid about expressing an opinion or searching for truth, pursuits which are too often taboo at more conventional daily papers. But despite their progressive agenda, the staffs of these papers are almost always entirely white -- there's nary a Negro in any of the newsrooms. It's a hypocrisy that's ironically overlooked because of the papers' liberal politics. "We're good white people because we're liberal," the thinking goes. "We don't work with black people, but we write great things about them."

In my longstanding role as the token black integrator (at papers in New York, Houston and now, North Carolina), I've gotten the chance to give a few of these papers some credibility on the issue of newsroom diversity. Still, I haven't always been welcomed with open arms.

The last day of last November was the first day of my new job at Houston's alternative weekly. After a long day of settling into the new cubicle, I left the office in the early evening to head home. The smog-polluted sky had that beautiful pink orange haze that reminds you of romance. When I left, there were only a few cars remaining in the parking lot. I walked to mine, opened the door and got in. I fumbled around with the removable face for my stereo. I cranked the engine.

Unbeknown to me, one of my new coworkers, a white lady who I hadn't yet met, left the building just after I did. I didn't notice her until I was comfortably in the driver's seat listening to some music, which was probably Outkast. I looked to my right and saw her staring at me from her car, a red Miata convertible, which was a couple of spaces away from my green Honda. She had a quizzical look on her face like she needed directions. After a few long seconds of avoiding her gaze, I let down my window to see if I could be of assistance. She stared silently, penetratingly. I let my window back up, pulled out of my spot and headed for the parking lot's exit.

Before I could reach the street, she swerved her Miata in front of my car to block me. Oddly enough, I thought nothing of it. If she was in that much of a hurry, I thought, she could leave first -- no big deal. But she didn't move; she just sat there. I still figured that she was just a little confused, so I sat patiently. Outkast really soothes the soul of an Atlanta native.

When another few seconds passed without her moving, I tapped the horn a few times. Nothing. Growing frustrated, I tried to drive around her. When I moved, she moved. For some reason, she wasn't letting me out of the parking lot. I let down my window again.

"What's the problem, lady?"

"I'm not letting you out of here!" She screamed.

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm not letting you out of the parking lot with that car. That's my friend's car. You're stealing my best friend's car!"

I paused, baffled, then took a few moments to retrace my steps. I entered the car with my key. I cranked the engine with my key. I played my Outkast CD. Yes, yes, it was definitely my car. "What are you talking about. This is my car!"

"No! That's my friend's car. This is a private lot. You don't work here."

"Does your friend have Georgia plates?" Don't ask me why I tried to reason with her.

"Yes, she does! This a private lot. I've never seen you here before!"

"Today was my first day!" My patience had run out. I gunned my engine and headed directly for her car. Sensing that she was no longer dealing with a polite car thief, but an angry black man, she moved out of my way. I sped away from the parking lot ready to run over the next white lady that crossed my path. A couple of blocks away, the red Miata pulled alongside me. The white lady again stared at me, but this time she was blushing. She motioned for me to let down my window.

"I'm soooooo sorry," she pleaded. "I thought you were stealing my friend's car. She has that same car. I feel sooo bad. Pleeeeeease forgive me." She went on until the light turned green and I drove away.

The next day, she stopped by my cubicle to apologize again. She brought her friend with her -- the one whose car she'd accused me of stealing. They both apologized and apologized and apologized. "We're not racist, we promise. We're not racist!" Of course, you aren't. This is the alternative press.

I hope things will be different at my new job. They better be. I'm not as nice as I used to be.

21 Comments:

Blogger piu piu said...

i can't believe you get that shit- in your WORKPLACE???! the UK can be bad....police stopping black kids in cars etc....but from what i know (albeit limited knowledge me being white) the shit you experience in the states is rarer over here (i'm referring to the monkey business story too). jeez. i guess here it depends how attuned you are at noticing less obvious things- like when i walk round london or my city with my boyfriend (he's indian) holding his hand, he'll notice looks toward us both that go right over my head, and he gets comments about london bombings a lot. Sometimes the roles get reversed. once or twice in Brixton in london late at night I've had guys give my boyfriend shit for being with a white girl.

Sounds like that woman is gonna feel worse if u just carry on with your dignified silence. Go for it. At least that way she gets to entertain all sorts of self guilt, all self inflicted.

3:22 AM  
Blogger FreakinRican said...

All you gotta do is look around the parking lot and make sure no one is driving the same car, with the same GA plates (or TX or whatever) w/o an Outkast CD and you'll be fine. Beware, however, since in bible belt south, they shoot first and ask questions after.

5:42 AM  
Blogger Gold Nugget said...

This reminds me of the Chris Rock line in Bigger and Blacker when he says that he got pulled over for stealing a car and because he's black he thinks "damn, maybe i did steal this car" eventhough it was his car. People might think that this is just comedy and not real, but there you have it.

6:58 AM  
Blogger The Quintessential Negro said...

When it happened, that Chris Rock dialogue actually ran through my mind. "Oh Lord, I done stole my own car!"

8:33 AM  
Blogger hanmee said...

You handled with more diplomacy than I would have. (Of course, considering how she reacted in the first place, I guess it's a good thing that you were so polite about it, huh?! - since you would have probably gotten a raw deal if you had said/done anything more.)

9:00 AM  
Anonymous shell said...

Oh man...that really sucked...
I can't believe she had the audacity to pull you over...

12:46 PM  
Blogger sJea said...

man...this is so crazy...i couldn't respond for a couple of days...you shoulda called the police on her ass and had her arrested for harassment or intimidation...or somethin'...

8:02 AM  
Blogger allaboutgeorge said...

I'm so glad you're working but, man, I'm sorry that incident happened to you.

1:59 PM  
Blogger juliana said...

I had to share this with my French boyfriend, who doesn't understand racism in the states. Now hopefully he'll get a better understanding of how we live. What's interesting too, is that I saw Crash last night. It's an excellent movie that brought up a lot issues about our culture.

6:14 AM  
Blogger moloko said...

I am Juliana's boyfriend, I am French and I am white. To be honest, I still don't really understand racism and it really shocked me how people (whether they were white or black) were staring at us when walking on the street in the US. All I saw were white people having huge prejudices about black people and black people having huge prejudices back to white people. Being a man, I usually don't really express my feelings. Well this time, I cried in front of my girlfriend. I didn't know there could be so much unsaid violence between communities. I am not used to this cultural shocked, we have thousands of so-called interacial couples in Paris and we don't even have a name to call them.

Well, I hope you can travel overseas a little bit. Don't think that racism is something that is shared all accross the globe. There are people that does not care about your skin color and won't treat you any differently. I hope you still believe in it.

Good luck with your job. Live your life the way you want it to be. The US is your country, your home. Nobody can deny it to you.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Rand said...

I'm not french, and don't know juliana or e-man. However, I am brown. You know... the healthy dark chocolately brown of mother India. While I've never been accused of stealing my own car, I've had my share of racially-tinged experiences. But none quite so funny. Thanks for the laugh.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Gold Nugget said...

to e-man,

What about the hatred from the French towards americans. It's almost the same thing, but i think it is perceived differently because it's a nationalistic thing as opposed to a personal, racially biased thing. I may be wrong but if i am, please correct me.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Tha Nigga Negro said...

Peace Quint. I gotta educate on a serious note to the Cracker Frenchman.

You just tell me that the people of Algerian decent living in Les Courtillieres or La Courneuve (aka tha ghetto) are getting along just fine with the decendants of the Gauls, and I'll shut the hell up.

The racism that the French (British, Spanish, German, Belgian, and Dutch) exported during their days of colonialism is today no less brutal, violent, or disgusting as our American racism. The main difference is that the devide that you manufactured between human beings is corrborated by geography. The reality and racism at its core is no different.

From a REAL HOT Nigga Negro!

2:40 PM  
Blogger moloko said...

to gold nugget,

I can't deny there is anti-americanism in France (although I am dating a African-American girl for almost two years now). The main difference is that most French people are pretty much against the Bush administration but wouldn't ever do anything wrong against a US citizen. It's rather funny how Americans think that they'd be almost killed over here. Don't believe your media too much. For example, the French government offered logistic and financial help to the states of the gulf coast but the Bush administration first denied it and then accepted only part of it. Of course the information wasn't spread all over the US. They'd rather make you think we hate you guys when it serves their policies.

to tha nigga negro (are you that black?! ;),

Thank you for calling me a Cracker although it is a little bit racist from what my girlfriend told me but anyway ...

Did I say that racism didn't exist in France? Who could say so? I am aware of what's going on in our ghettos and know a few of them because I've got friends living there (in particular in Sarcelles). There is poverty out there, racist cops stopping and arresting people and we don't even have affirmative action. Nevertheless, I don't think you could see nearly as many interracial couples in any city of the US as in Paris, which to me proves quite something. Even in NYC, quite a lot of people were staring at me and my girlfriend.

Regarding the French ghettos, most of the people living there arrived in France recently without any degree, unlike the US immigration that is chosen on educational and ethnical standards. Who could think that they could get good jobs being foreigners without degrees? Nevertheless, their children may have the chance to go to school (which is free until High School graduation) and college (which costs about $250 a year including social insurance) and get a good job.

My point is not that the French system is the best as I do not even think so. My point in my last post was that all white people aren't racist. It kinda gets on my nerves when minorities expect nothing but a racist behavior from whites. They are a few that actually support your movement.

See, I trully think M.L. King's job is not done yet. His philosophy was not based on an ever-lasting fight between the so-called "crackers" and "niggas" but on a peaceful movement where both people could debate and discuss. My e-mail is elmanufico@hotmail.com we can also discuss those issues via e-mails, on MSN or AIM if you want to.

Take care

7:02 AM  
Blogger NickelBagONegrons said...

Man... that's messed up. I'm speechless. And for me... that's not usual.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Julio Morales said...

"unlike the US immigration that is chosen on educational and ethnical standards."

ha ha ha

7:17 AM  
Blogger moloko said...

Well yeah of course I don't speak about illegals. Nevertheless, legals are chosen via the US green card lottery. Repeating a sentence and adding "ha ha ha" at the bottom is not such a strong point anyway ...

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you ever stop to think that it was the same green car with the same state's license plate?

Ignorant.

7:13 PM  
Blogger The Quintessential Negro said...

Her best friend's car was a '97 or '98 Honda Civic. I drove a '94 Honda Accord. Her best friend had Texas plates. I had Georgia plates.

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Whitey in Denial said...

Yeah, but the point is both cars were HONDAS. And GREEN. Natural mistake. Nothing to do with race.

Ingorant!

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Bubba the Negro Stomper said...

I would have popped a cap in your negro ass and axed questions later. Your kind is not wanted in NC, boy.

7:11 PM  

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