Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The south is weird

One of the weirdest things about race relations in the south, that I've especially noticed since I moved to the little city which is more traditionally southern than where I used to live, is that blacks and whites seem to self-segregate. For instance there are two unisex beauty salons on the main street here, right next to each other. There's no signs in the window but one only has black people in it and one has only whites.

When I take my walks I occassionally end up on a street where only black people live, kind of a dividing line between neighborhoods. The black people on the porches look at me suspiciously. Some of the women even glare at me. No one returns my smile and nod. Even downtown, it's rare for a black person to return a friendly smile, although it occassionally happens there.

But I had a breakthrough of sorts yesterday. I went to pay my electric bill at city hall. I always pay in person because I don't trust the mail and they shut you off in a hot minute if you're late. There's never more than a couple of people in line usually. Yesterday there had to be at least 40 or 50 people. Line so long it snaked through the hallways. I ended up in a group of about six black women.

A half hour wait like that is more conducive to idle conversations so I initiated some. One woman behind me was worried her husband waiting in the hot car would be mad she was taking so long. Was afraid he wouldn't believe her about the line and think that she was just "running her mouth" with some friend.

After I paid, I had dropped off a couple of cans at the recycling bin next door to city hall that you can't recyle on the street. On the way back she was just pulling out and stopped her car to talk to me. Took a few seconds to figure out she needed confirmation about the line for her husband, which I duly gave in my best southern dialect. Think I saved her some trouble with her old man. She called me honey when she drove away. That felt pretty good.


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