August 2, 2011

Postal Politics



I walked many sun-scorched blocks in my 70-year-old body, cadaverous and winded, to find a small Post Office, off Fulton Street, in my Brooklyn neighborhood . A truck that was servicing the Elevated was parked on the sidewalk, obscuring the flag, but I eventually found it, and went in to mail my letters and buy stamps. I was grumbling about the price, and that stamps didn't seem to come in books anymore, when the African-American clerk surprised me with something I had never heard in an American Post Office: politics.

"Well, you can't blame President Obama for that," she said.

Since I had not blamed him for anything, and, wondering where it came from, I said, "Well, I don't blame him for that. I blame him for doing a lousy job with his domestic and foreign policy."

She broke into my sentence before it was finished, saying, "I know, you will blame him for something, but it isn't his fault. It's the Republicans and people like you, who won't give him a chance."

"You just like him because he is black," I said.

"That's right!" she exclaimed.

"Well, I like him because he is black, too, but I don't like his wars, and I don't like the fact that he won't stand up and fight for the poor, including the black people, who are poor."

But she heard none of it, because she had been talking over me throughout my sentence. I didn't get all she said, either. I have observed that it is difficult for people to transmit, and receive, at the same time. In fact, I wonder if it is possible.

Anyway, she was pretty worked up, and her tone suggested that she felt mighty superior to me. We both raised our voices then, and, of course, mine won, because I have a mighty voice, despite my decrepitude, and need no microphone.

"Ask Representative John Conyers what he thinks of Obama's presidency," I said, loud enough for her, and everyone else, to hear, as I made for the door, wondering if she knew who Conyers is, and pursued by more accusations. I was "just trying to bring the legally-elected President of the United States down."

I went shopping next door.

Yogurt, milk, cake, ice cream, my usual diet. Then, as I was checking out, I remembered my tan cap, which was on my head. I got it from the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN. It has a threaded logo of black, white, and red. The white is in the shape of a man, who is pushing to the left against an approaching red mass, with a black background surrounding him. Pretty subtle, yet explicit, if you ask me. That's why I like the hat.

No one ever notices it in East New York, although I have seen people looking at it on the crowded J train.

I walked with my groceries back into the Post Office, and waited in line, until she was free of customers, and then approached her bulletproof window. There were three clerks, and no one behind me.

"I want to apologize for raising my voice," I began. She began transmitting immediately, so I don't know if she heard my apology. And then, I took off my cap, and said, "I just want to show you something." I pointed at the logo. "Do you see what that says?"

She ignored the question and the cap, and went on with her diatribe, about how President Obama was not responsible for anything wrong in Washington, and so on.

"Do you see what that says?" I asked again, having her attention for a second.

"Yes, it says, 'Memphis Tennessee'."

"No! It says National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN'."

She acknowledged nothing. I silently wondered if she knew what Memphis means in the Civil Rights milieu.

"That's Dr. Martin Luther King's museum," I said. "Have you been there?" She didn't answer, because she was transmitting again.

I said, "I want to clear something up with you. I am not against President Obama. I had a lot of hope for him. I am not against you, either. I have been in more Civil Rights demonstrations than you know. I've also been in more antiwar demonstrations than I can recall. I think you are judging me on the color of my skin. You don't know me, or my heart. You don't know where my heart is."

"Oh, yes I do!" she exclaimed.

"How can you know, by the color of my skin?" I held up my fishbelly white forearm.

"That's right!" she said.

"Oh? Then it's okay for me to judge you by the color of your skin?"

"That's right! You can!"

I was flabbergasted, and wanted to say something about "the content of one's character," but decided it was time to leave, because I was beginning to feel superior.

"We call that racism," I said, leaving.

Sigh. I hadn't said "black racism." What's the point? I can't change her. She doesn't care to know or understand me. She probably doesn't believe that such a thing as black racism can exist. It was depressing, because the whole, brief encounter had reminded me of New Orleans, my old hometown, where I had spent three depressing years, living in my van, after Katrina, and, periodically, endured the bullying, and threatening, black racism there. A black government had been in power 14 years by then, and blacks comprised most of the Police Dept., nearly all of the bus and taxi drivers, and streetcar conductors, and every office in City Hall, and managed many stores and businesses all over town.

Of course, New Orleans, with its horrible history of slavery, and 20th Century racism, is a different story, to me, because, in my mind, if "justification" is possible, nobody could feel more justified in hating the whites, than those tough black people there. They have good reason to suspect whites, more reason, to my mind, than most blacks in Brooklyn, who had civil rights, before they had been heard of in New Orleans.

"Please don't sell me down the river, massa. Please don't sell me down the river, down to New Orleans." It was the worst place, with the possible exception of the Florida Everglades, for a slave to be sold. Only the toughest survived.

I know that. Does she know that? Would it be childish to ask if she had ever been in a Civil Rights demonstration, and, if she had, had she ever demonstrated for the rights of white people? Probably. But, I have a feeling, that she, like many blacks today, justified or not, thinks that whites have no rights, which a black person is bound to respect.

Of course, one can say, "How does it feel?" It feels lousy, just the way they want us to feel. It feels even lousier, when you know, as I know, that I lost my whole, original family, and their trust, when they thought I had gone crazy, because I took the side of the oppressed, black poor. I don't think I deserve to be treated like a white racist. Naturally, neither did blacks deserve their oppression. It's like Clint Eastwood said, in "Unforgiven": "Deserves got nothing to do with it."

That's the way it is. "We all have our cross to bear." Racism is alive, and thriving, in this world, and all over this world, in every race that I know of. It is co-equal with war as the most-malignant force moving on our pernicious, human planet.

I'm not asking Congress to deal with this. It already tried, and failed.

It's my party, and I'll whine if I want to.