Ebony and ivory between the yellow linesWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
He asked me not to use his name, another sign of his modesty. He is the morning attendant in the parking garage I use Downtown, and he is as friendly and helpful a person as you are going to meet in this age of graceless customer service.
He is a man of pleasant and sincere greetings who remembers scores of names and inspires good moods at the beginning of the workday. He taught me how to dock my car between the immovable concrete columns and yellow lines that separate vehicles by mere inches.
Last Thursday, as I was leaving the garage, a woman pulled in, driving a yacht-sized luxury car. She nervously inched her way forward, clearly not sure where she should park among the reserved spaces.
My friend saw her, and began walking toward her, already sizing up the car to guide the driver to a safe spot. As he approached, calling a friendly greeting, the woman saw him, drew back in her seat, hurriedly rolled up her window and hit the gas, barreling forward.
Why would she do that?
“She must be scared of a black man,” my friend laughed, but his smile did not hide his baffled and wounded feelings.
The parking attendant is not a big, tall, imposing guy; he wears a shirt that clearly identifies him as working for the parking garage. Yet the white woman fled from him like a socialite running from a mugger in Gotham City.
I know racism is alive and well, but I rarely see such blatant displays, and it’s jarring to be reminded how some people still buy into the stereotypes and judgments that should have been discarded with the last “Whites Only” drinking fountains.
Three years ago, when I worked for The Daily Telegram in Adrian, Mich., I interviewed a citizen in the small city of Morenci about neighborhood drug and crime problems. She told harrowing accounts of neglected property, children living in filth and drug activity on her street. She was quiet for a moment, shook her head, and said, “Everything was fine here until the coloreds moved in.”
I wasn’t sure I heard correctly.
“Coloreds?” I asked.
“You know, blacks,” she said.
“Coloreds?” I asked. “What is this, 1953?”
That was a striking moment, a brush with the ignorance and evil of racism (it turned out half of the people involved with the property in question were Caucasian). But seeing the results of such rudeness through my parking attendant friend’s eyes drove it home much more clearly.
“I get that all the time,” he told me. “There’s white folks scared of me when I approach them. I don’t understand it.”
I understand it, even as I loathe it. I was raised by a father who believed the very worst about non-white cultures, and he did his best to instill his backward, hillbilly racism in me. I’m not proud to say he succeeded; for a long time, I believed his descriptions, stories and misinformation. It wasn’t until I was moved from the farmlands and reached Toledo Libbey High School, and started interacting with other cultures, that I learned the truth that assassinated the lie.
Because I’ve been on both sides of the racism mindset, I’m more aware when I see daylight prejudice, examples of undisguised ignorance. I do not pretend to know how being on the receiving end of such rudeness feels, but I received a glimpse of the impact in the sad face of my friend as he watched the white woman speed away from him.
The parking spaces aren’t the only entities with yellow streaks running down their backs.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. He may be contacted at (419) 241-1700 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.