Easy Racism


“That’s the easy kind of racism,” Donnie said.

He and I were having an after work beer at a bar with a dirty red door on the lower level of Michigan Avenue, just north of the Chicago Loop.

These days with everybody either working two jobs or looking for jobs, nobody saw each other as much as they used to. But his seven-year-old daughter Melinda, my god-daughter, and world’s most beautiful kid, gave Donnie and I a chance to get together more than most. We uncles, aunts, godfathers, godmothers take our jobs seriously. A lot more seriously than Donnie took his UPS truck, parked illegally outside the bar, or I took the cubicle where I did the contract corporate job, making the world safe for software.

“What do you mean easy? I said. There’s no such thing as easy racism.”

“I mean easy to see. You’ve seen the news. A November 2009 sales meeting of the German Company Thyssen Krupp. Chicago’s newest corporate citizen. And a guy gets up to do a skit in black face.” That is easy. That’s racist. Everyone can see it. There is no argument. It’s as simple as. . .”

“Black and white?”

We clinked glasses as we had been doing for pretty much as long as I remember. Laughed because that’s all you can do sometimes.

“Hard racism is what you do NOT see.” Donnie continued.

“You mean like how the black guy had to sit in his car alone every day before he went into work. Just to psych himself in to going inside to start his workday? How every tiny pinprick of the culture poked and jabbed at the guy for no other reason than he was black?” I said.

“Yeah cracker north side,” Donnie smiled. Like that. Saying ‘it has nothing to do with him being black.’ That’s where all the bullshit starts flowing. It’s how this guy can’t get phone calls returned. How he works triple time and it’s never good enough. How there is an email joke that goes around and he ain’t included.”

We were quiet for awhile. Then to a subject we both loved more than anything. “What’s going on with my god daughter?” I asked.

“It ain’t easy,” Donnie replied. “Both kids can’t play outside at all. We thought it would get better. But Roger, I got two daughters. Seven and nine. And both of them know that when they hear the sound of guns poppin on any given night, to slip off the couch where they are watching TV, and make themselves small, laying on the floor, because so many times the bullets come through some one’s wall and well. . .you know.”

I nodded

“Tell me again why I bought in Englewood? 25% of the murders in the city. The whole city. And that’s where I live. I am some kind of fool. . .thinking I could get a deal if I bought in there.”

“Donnie. Nobody knew what would happen when you bought the place. And you bought it cause it was cheap! And you being one tight ass cheap. . .”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So you can’t leave, cause you can’t sell without selling those girl’s future. That is one hard choice my friend.”

He nodded. “I don’t know. Maybe it will get better.”

“What about that white guy they just put in as district police commander? You think that’s racism? Having a white guy in charge of the cops. 14,000 police officers in Chicago and they couldn’t find a black guy to run Englewood?”

“Roger, you gotta read the rest of the story. That ain’t racism. That’s the same shit you got living 4 blocks from the Mayor. You know the real problem? It ain’t that the guy is white. He has 26 years experience on the job. He ran a district and he ran gang crimes, which is kinda the whole ballgame. It ain’t that he’s white. It’s that no one from the mayor’s office or the police department made anybody from the neighborhood part of the decision. They didn’t think it was important to TALK with us. It’s not racism. It’s cronyism. That good old boys club. Not letting anybody in that old circle of power. Mayor would have sent some boys over to talk with a bunch of us, asking us, “What do you think?” That would have changed a lot of things.

We know the mayor, the chief, they will make the call. We are fine with that. But when that ole boys club circle just sends down the word the same way they always do everywhere, when they say “This is how it is” that is what puts a bullet in that trust they are always talking about.

“So the guy who is the new commander. . .he is fine and. . .”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But let me have a piece of that decision. We are talking about Melinda being safe. Your goddaughter. And you know I ain’t gonna be taking her to no church! So you are in this too, Mister North Side.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s my job.”

We were quiet for awhile. Like old friends can be. Finally I said, “So there is easy racism and hard racism. Easy you can see. And hard racism. Hard is how our Melinda has to dive off the couch in your living room and hit the floor every time she hears a bullet pop outside.”

“No, hard is that she has to even think about doing that. That’s hard.”

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3 Responses to “Easy Racism”

  1. Gwendolyn Glover DeRosa Says:

    Your lovely vignettes are so beautiful. The writing style is tight. Every word matters. A lot of writers can’t create real, round characters in such a short piece, but you excel at it. I love reading your stories. I feel more connected to the world.

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger,
    Reminds me a little of Springsteen’s latest single, “We Take Care of Our Own.” I have to really question if we do when our own citizens go hungry, get shot in our streets and don’t have meaningful jobs to contribute to society. At the same time the US can spend over $800 billion in Iraq, Americans have over a trillion dollars in student loans outstanding. So is this “hard” racism against Americans by American (politicians)?

  3. Paul Haider Says:

    Ted, this is an insight and excellent comment! As a “Christian” nation, we “take care of our own” much in the same way that Bush took care of the African-American residents of New Orleans in 2005; Cheney did “took care” of the American economy and people of a low socio-economic status. Economic racism is the most implicit form of racism that still exists in the United Staes.

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