Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Column #3: It's no sale for this bigoted businessman

It's hard not to notice a 60-year-old man with a white ponytail working at a shoe store. He's even harder to forget when he's pressing his phone number into your hand, urging you to call him directly next time you're looking for more Vans slip-ons.

Lester (not his real name) took an instant liking to me because he liked the Bob Seger concert T-shirt that I was wearing. He never asked my name, but immediately started rambling about the Rolling Stones in the early '70s, how the kids today don't know what good music is, etc.

Curiously un-self-conscious, Lester then began complaining about how, “These young people don't even know about Motown, even the…” He looked behind us at an African American clerk and gestured in her direction. “They only know about the rap. It's all noise with the screaming and the anger and all the…” He leaned in and whispered a curse word, as if, otherwise, I wouldn't have known that part of what's bad about rap is all the cursing.

It could've been worse. When the Aug. 4 flash flood overtook our street, it took my car with it. When the insurance company said that they'd send me a check, my sadness turned into sunny delight. Now, though, came the hard part: shopping for a used car.

At the first dealership we visited, in the East End, we saw a promising ride. After a few more trips across the county came up empty, we headed back to look at the first car again.

We took the promising car out on the road. The test drive was going along just fine for the first few minutes. I turned the radio on to my favorite station, Country Legends 103.9. I like most music, unless it's created by corporate pawns with silly names like Miley or Mraz. The salesman seemed glad to find common ground over our mutual enjoyment of country music, and told an overlong story about meeting George Jones.

Exchanging basic pleasantries isn't amongst the hardest chores one faces in life. From the age of 5 or so, we all get a lot of clues from society about how to talk to people we've only known for a half-hour. He was off to a fairly good start.

"Where do you all live?"


"Oh, yeah? Bardstown Road?"

My wife confirmed this before I could clarify his error.

The next thing you want to say probably isn't what he said next: "I like it over there. There's a lot of good, wholesome white folks there."

To clarify his perspective, he added, "Yeah, I don't care much for darkies myself."

Though you might think that we should've immediately told him how hateful he was, we didn't. We both knew that there wasn't anything we could say to make him understand just how wrong we thought he was. We also both knew that behavior like that catches up to someone pretty quickly. And we both knew that I have the power of the press behind me, to tell this story.

When I admit to stereotyping, it's usually with generalizations such as the following: When I think of people in the East End, I usually don't assume that they might be blatant, unrepentant racists. I also usually forget that country music fans are thought of, by some, as racists.

I like country music, but I also like reggae, salsa and not being a racist.

We left, and found another car for $1,000 more on Dixie Highway. That salesman might have been a racist, too, but if he was, he didn't burden us with his ignorance.

I don't expect to find bigotry in a business where thousands of dollars can depend on personal relationships. Here's an example: I would not buy anything from a blatant, unrepentant racist. I do not care if such a person loses his job — in fact, I look forward to it.

c. 2009 Velocity Weekly

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