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Belmont Club

The Corner of Walk and Don’t Walk

July 19th, 2013 - 6:49 pm

I remember the first time someone drove me around a low-income New York city neighborhood in the early 1980s.

“Well what do you think?”

“Think of what?”

“The slums.”

“Which slums?”

I was not being facetious. It was simply that  everything we had passed would have been considered middle or upper middle class housing in the Philippines. This old memory came to mind after reading CNN’s article on Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, the emotional hook of which is that he crosses the street to avoid making white women feel uncomfortable.

Cummings says he rarely speaks about race or what life is like as a black man, but says President Barack Obama’s heartfelt remarks Friday afternoon made him more comfortable to do so.

“I think it’s important that he speak out and he brings a very unique perspective, because is the president and he has been extremely fortunate compared to most African-Americans, and yet still he can speak to the prejudices that most of us still face,” Cummings told CNN in a telephone interview.

Cummings and Obama are no doubt sincere. One can never understand the peculiar inner life and experience of a black person without being one himself. But the statement is incomplete, simply because neither Obama nor Cummings can — by the same token — know what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes any more than they can walk in theirs. Everyone crosses the street in his own way without being aware that others do too.

People who come to America from the Third World are completely astonished by such things as lights that work, faucets with water and roads that are paved, having sometimes never actually seen these things before. They often can’t tell the difference between one “white” person and another, Greek, Lebanese, Anglo and Jew being all the same to them. In many cases they don’t even speak English. The streets they criss-cross in their minds are many and labyrinthine.

Some years ago a friend of mine met a foreign doctoral student bound for Cornell at the airport, and noticed he seemed unusually weak. Inquiring into it he found the man had not eaten since he boarded the airplane 32 hours before. “Didn’t they feed you on the plane,” my friend asked? The doctoral student replied in amazement, “don’t they charge extra if you eat the meals they serve?”

The classic story of the newly arrived Filipino is about receiving a call from someone who is supposed to meet him.

“Where are you?”

“I don’t know. But I am on a corner.”

“Good. Good. What the sign on the corner say?”

“‘Walk’ and ‘Don’t Walk’”.

But it isn’t just the rubes. I had a Jewish classmate at Harvard who told me a story about his dad, who was a doctor in Milwaukee but who had survived the Holocaust in Europe. One day his father took him aside and whispered, “son, let me show you where it is”.  What could it be, he thought to himself. Intrigued he followed his father to a closet in which were a packed suitcase, some stout shoes, an overcoat and a hat.

“If they come for you, take this and run.”

He wondered for a moment whether his father, a respected doctor, had lost his senses. Later he realized that somewhere deep down inside his dad there was a scar that would never heal. In some corner of his mind there persisted a trauma from his youth under the Third Reich, such that he was prepared to make a run for it, even deep in postwar America. In the Milwaukee doctor’s mind the problem was less how to cross the street to avoid white women then how to sneak across border wire and keep one step ahead of the whistles and the dogs.

We cross many streets in our minds sometimes without knowing that others are doing so themselves.

A stranger literally crossed the street to me one night as I left the home of Benigno Aquino in Newton in 1983. He was wizened old Eastern European, lost and asking for directions. On hearing my voice he took me for an American and clasped my hands, blubbering for no apparent reason, “God bless America, God bless America.” What walls had he scaled, I wondered, to get to Newton. What must this place seem like to him?

My own life was full of its own crossings, usually of a comic and ridiculous nature. I suffered early from what might be called a multiple cultural disorder, a kind of mixed up composite of classes, incompatible cultures and a mongrel racial background. One day in the mid-1990s I was asked to arrange an inspection trip for a black American US government official to some project in Central Luzon.

“We’ll have to walk,” I said. “But there might be a problem. There are occasionally some New People’s Army guerilla units in the area and if they find an American they may take him hostage.”

“So what do we do?”

“Well, let’s agree on this cover story. He’ll explain that he’s a negrito come back from America to visit his relatives.” The negritos were small, negroid aboriginal people about 4 feet tall.

Of course the New People’s Army guerrillas would have realized that the six foot, 280 pound black man was no way a negrito, but the suggestion was so ridiculous I figured they’d probably wave us through on the strength of the joke. Plus, they would in their own minds understand that the “negrito” identity trumped official nationality. You can’t hold a negrito hostage. That was too funny. As long as there was a chance they thought it was true he was safe. But afterward I wondered how I had computed that particular solution to start with. It was a calculation made from a wheel inside a wheel. In my mind I had crossed the cultural street multiple times, assessed things from various points of view and wound up the original place, which is nowhere in particular.

I guess it was then I realized that each person has his own unique identity. You may be Jewish, or African American, or African, or Chinese. But ultimately none of those stereotypes can adequately describe you. You are doomed to be yourself. And unless you realize this you will have missed the best part of life.

One of the great things about a multiple cultural disorder is you understand and sympathize with the irrationalities of different cultures. You understand why an upper class Filipino will stand frozen with shame at having to apply for a job. You can grasp the desperation of a white blue collar worker in Boston trying to convince you to rent a room in his apartment. “Please mister I need the money.” You can understand the unstated irritation of a Chinese person having to listen to a joke about So Dak and Kenneth Sy. You understand the desperate and wounded dignity of the illiterate poor. The thin and brittle pride of declining middle class. The shameful ignorance of someone Fresh Off the Boat and fears of someone who has never eaten a balut duck egg before in his life.

None of these denigrate or lessen the burdens of Cummings or Obama, just an observation that they are not unique. Nor are they alone. Above all I remembered the advice of an old, wizened thug as I made myself ready to mix with gang of acknowledged murderers back in my Tondo days. “Remember,” he said, “that they are only people like yourself. They are as afraid of you as you are of them. They have as many doubts as you. Remember that, boy, and you’ll do just fine.”

And then I crossed the street and did just fine.


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Top Rated Comments   
Yep. When I returned to America from Peace Corps service in Kenya in 1979, I moved to New Orleans. Most of the city was black. The mayor was black. The power structure was finely larded with black folks. And still people bitched. I looked around, saw people with cars, air conditioners, jobs, three TVs, and opportunity, and I thought of my Kenyan colleague who begged me to bring him home with him and let him work as my "houseboy."

I went back to work on seismic survey crews, where I could earn good money by working in the hot summer sun for 14 hours a day. One particularly hot day, having flagged out drilling tractor routes while I hiked for miles through the thick Louisiana woods, I exited the wood at a road with a convenience store. I went in to buy a cold drink. Everyone in there was black. The black guy behind the counter said, "We don't serve you people in here." I left.

My Mexican neighbor told me "It's because of 'Roots.' That movie got them all stirred up."
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
The big risk the liberal establishment took in advancing Obama for President was not in proposing a black candidate, but in nominating an incompetent one. That ensured that when the recriminations came it would be about race.

A successful Obama presidency would have been a breakthrough for race relations that would have lasted decades. Conversely, a catastrophic Obama presidency would set things back for generations.

The unspoken takeaway for many would be "never an African-American again". But that is the wrong lesson. The right lesson, I think should be "never an incompetent again".

Things might not have been much better, and arguably they would have been worse, under Hillary Clinton. The kind of disaster that is unfolding is across the board. Foreign policy catastrophe, economic mismanagement, chaos in governance, botched programs -- they're just piling up. So in the face that avalanche of woes, Obama will do the easiest thing: make it about race.

But it is really not about race. Race in this case was cosmetic. It was the mask the liberal establishment donned to rejuvenate their tired old agenda. And now that it's failing comprehensively they'll blame the mask.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the ones with the most to gain by racializing Obama are faceless backroom boys. They know he's done for so they're going to pin the disaster on the black guy, not upon the guys who selected the incompetent who happened to black. They'll put their political mistakes in the coffin with Obama's career. Pin it on him and push Hillary 2016.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
So a mysognistic racist refuses to share the sidewalk with white women? Or did I miss the point?

The point that so many people seem to miss is the non-existence of "white" as a grouping. Look at the history of Europe: two thousand years of "white" people killing "white"people.

And it has not really ended. Non-Parisian French people hate Parisians almost as much as Non-London English people hate Londoners. And when the UKIP leader was recently harangued by a handlful of socialists in Edinburgh, the outpouring of negative stereotypes from "white" English UKIP'ers about "white" Scottish people was amazing to see. Not so many "United" white folks in the United Kingdom Independence Party.

White, Black, etc are false constructs designed by evil people to let them divide & rule the entire human race. When the British Empire ruled by playing groups of people in conquered countries against each other, it was called colonialism. Let's all stop co-operating with this internal colonialism that so-called "Progressives" seek to impose on us all.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (68)
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Magnificent post, and magnificent comments from you, Wretchard. I think this post is most representative of you and helps to explain why I love your opinions so much. Thank you for doing what so many have done, crossing the street without bitterness or unnecessary rancor, and allowing your internal software to flourish.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
What a small, nasty little man this POS is- just like Duh! Precedent.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I Love This Bar"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Fulz4ytZ54
We got winners, we got losers
Chain smokers and boozers
And we got yuppies, we got bikers
We got thirsty hitchhikers
And the girls next door dress up like movie stars

Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this bar

We got cowboys, we got truckers
Broken-hearted fools and suckers
And we got hustlers, we got fighters
Early birds and all-nighters
And the veterans talk about their battle scars

Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this bar

[Chorus:]
I love this bar
It's my kind of place
Just walkin' through the front door
Puts a big smile on my face
It ain't too far, come as you are
Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this bar

I've seen short skirts, we got high-techs
Blue-collar boys and rednecks
And we got lovers, lots of lookers
And I've even seen dancing girls and hookers
And we like to drink our beer from a mason jar

Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this bar
Yes I do

I like my truck (I like my truck)
I like my girlfriend (I like my girlfriend)
I like to take her out to dinner
I like a movie now and then

But I love this bar
It's my kind of place
Just trollin' around the dance floor
Puts a big smile on my face
No cover charge, come as you are
Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this bar
Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this bar
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
OT, but interesting; it's not called "profiling" anymore, it’s now called “predictive policing”.

http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_23696435/santa-cruz-police-catch-one-man-using-predictive/
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Coming Apart" argues that a large swath of America—poor and working-class whites—is turning away from traditional values and losing ground. [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181750916067234.html]

The greatest source of inequality in America now is not economic; it is cultural.

So much for the idea that the white working class remains the guardian of core American values like religious faith, hard work and marriage. Today the denizens of upscale communities like McLean, Va., New Canaan, Conn., and Palo Alto, Calif., according to Charles Murray in "Coming Apart," are now much more likely than their fellow citizens to embrace these core American values. In studying, as his subtitle has it, "the state of white America, 1960-2010," Mr. Murray turns on its head the conservative belief that bicoastal elites are dissolute and ordinary Americans are virtuous.

Focusing on whites to avoid conflating race with class, Mr. Murray contends instead that a large swath of white America—poor and working-class whites, who make up approximately 30% of the white population—is turning away from the core values that have sustained the American experiment. At the same time, the top 20% of the white population has quietly been recovering its cultural moorings after a flirtation with the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't believe most of the "facts" asserted here, that there is much of a difference now between classes, nor of any class now and that class 30 years previous. And by Murray's own logic we should not expect such differences. If these values really have causal powers then anyone exhibiting them should succeed and those who do not, do not. So, say that all those who worked hard, succeeded and are now happy. Virtue has triumphed!

Thomas Sowell often writes on the theme that membership in an economic class in the US is often temporary and in any case little enforced. Materially I think it's obvious that even working-class people are MUCH better off today than a generation ago. If they're less happy, well, their jobs being shipped to China and their kids being bussed to lousy schools, I wonder if that could have anything to do with it.

So, I'm not sure that there's anything new regarding morality and values, but maybe some old stuff has always been true and probably always will be.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
My predominantly white grand-father lost a finger to paper manufacturing. They told him to stop bleeding on the machine and go home, take the day off. He would have been glad to see jobs move oversea.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=X_2NeMrGCvg

The above ^^^^^ link will take you to the video interview given by Mr. Zimmerman to the police the very next day.

This video record shreds essentially all of the imagined points raised by the race hustlers.

39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
The video is a walk-about: you can see everything as if you were there.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you for posting that Blert.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Al Sharpton et al are planning a hundred city series of protests. MSM attempts to exaggerate level of attendance not withstanding, the issue will be decided by the head count and level of barbarism shown.

Tuesday, I think, is the coming day of ridicule.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
W: "I realized that each person has his own unique identity. You may be Jewish, or African American, or African, or Chinese. But ultimately none of those stereotypes can adequately describe you. You are doomed to be yourself."

All men (people) are endowed by their Creator with infinite and therefore equal value, and therefore all naturally possess equal rights which should be secured by equality before law. All people are also created with different (unequal) skin color, eye color, height, weight, mathematical reasoning, jumping ability, reading comprehension, etc. Our inequality of measurable attributes defines our unique individuality which is in turn enhances our infinite and therefore equal value.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
All men are created equal. What comes after is completely up to the individual.

Period. Full stop.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Equality of outcome never occurs in human nature, that sort of equality always requires force - the force of law - and that is why all Marxists/Leftists/Collectivists constantly agitate about inequality of individual human outcomes - and forceful equalization.

“We claim to live and die equal, the way we were born: we want this real equality or death; that’s what we need. And we’ll have this real equality, at whatever price. Unhappy will be those who stand between it and us!...We need not only that equality of rights written into the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen; we want it in our midst, under the roofs of our houses… The French Revolution was nothing but a precursor of another revolution, one that will be bigger, more solemn, and which will be the last.” Gracchus Babeuf - French Revolution

When Karl Marx wrote "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," it was for the purpose of empowering a Marxist government to force equal economic outcome for all the little people - but only for the ones positioned below the Marxist ruling class. Thus we have the defining contradiction within Marxism - the force required to equalize the (other) people in their outcomes automatically produces, in Orwellian fashion, a superior class of not-to-be-equalized equalizers.

“It had long been realized that the only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly. The so-called "abolition of private property" [Communist Manifesto] meant in effect the concentration of property in far fewer hands than before... In the years following the Revolution it [The Socialist Party of Oceania] was able to step into this commanding position almost un-opposed because the whole process was represented as an act of collectivization… It had always been assumed that if the Capitalist Class were expropriated Socialism must follow; and unquestionably the Capitalists had been expropriated. Factories, mines, land, houses, transport, everything had been taken away from them; and since these things were no longer private property it followed that they must be public property. Ingsoc [Socialist Principles of Oceania], which grew out of the earlier Socialist movement and inherited its phraseology, has in fact carried out the main item in the Socialist program with the result; foreseen and intended beforehand, that economic inequality has been made permanent.” George Orwell – 1984

This is why Marxists are Marxists - they crave the power, as Abraham Lincoln noted, "to do as they please with other men and the product of other men's labor." Marxists crave power over other men along with the attendant economic superiority.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Were the world strictly black and white there would be no shades of grey. Are all men created equal in talent? In inheritance? In ambition and drive to accomplishment? Clearly they are not. What we do with what we've been given is mostly up to the individual but to ignore cultural imperatives and its impact upon an individual's developing consciousness is to deny nurture and ascribe all to nature.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
If Cummings feels more 'comfortable' discussing race now, it's probably for the same reason flash mobs and 'justice for Trayvon' gang bangers feel comfortable even after this obvious attempt at a show trial conviction. After all, the president and the nation's media/propaganda organs have his back. The goal is to make 'racism' a form of original sin from which there is never any final redemption, and for which penance must always be paid.

But like all industries, the racial grievance industry may be reaching a (cyclical?) peak. After Duke Lacrosse, the Zimmerman trial, the politicized Civil Rights Division of the Holder Justice Department, the use of government agencies to spy on and harass of political opponents, the incessant wolf-cries of 'racism' from our cultural mandarins, after the trillions in transfer payments, the tolerance of special pleading and affirmative action, the demands we recognize and celebrate destructive social pathologies, and especially, the back-to-back elections of a man who remain committed to punishing the nation he's supposed to lead, I reckon many Americans are making peace with themselves on matters of race and this nation's past. Like the 'white flight' from cities following the riots of the 60's, many will abandon the one-way 'discussion' of race they've been subjected to for more than half a century.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good post, except writing that Obama and Cummings are sincere, that is just ridiculous.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Come on, Obama is perfectly sincere in his insincerity. As for Cummings, regardless of race, or even party affiliation, he's a politician and politicians don't last who are burdened by integrity.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
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