NOT RACE, NOT CLASS, IT’S CULTURE

Still thinking about Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson mo 1978-3

I grew up a stone’s throw from there, in the 1960s, and there were no blacks to speak of. We were all middle class whites and were trained with middle class ideas. Most of us went to state institutions, middle class schools, for college. We knew the program.

ferguson mo 1978 -1

After graduate school at a second middle class state institution, I came south to take my first college teaching position. The only person I knew in South Carolina was the person who hired me.

Landscape, behavior, attitudes were all unfamiliar to me. And true, I lived (still do) in a county that is majority minority. There was some kind of political plan to make this county the way it is, and its shape is huge, and far-reaching to attain that goal. Both whites and blacks were confusing.

I was truly in a different pond. Could not understand why strangers spoke to me. What did they want? Someone was to pick me up “after church” and I thought, “Which service?”. Overwhelmingly, there is only one here, and it is at eleven. The details of life became unfamiliar.

Having later married into a local family, it was very early on that I realized they were playing a game for which I would never know the rules. That is a cultural difference. Neutral, not bad, not good. It got me in trouble sometimes. That description stayed with me; it exactly depicted my emotions. I meant no harm, was simply confused. My antennae did not work well here.

People, black and white, do what their parents and grandparents did; they are the models. Those traditions may seem very strange to the other. Cultures are different ponds. Should know better, but last weekend was sort of shocked by the organization of a local Democratic Party campaign event.

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The fish fry and meet and greet was to start at four. We got to the event at that time, there was not a soul around. We sat in the car until we saw some movement in putting up a tent in the parking lot. My oldest, with us, is always embarrassed by my activities. We walk into the building behind the line of signs, against his advice. There was a meeting in a glass office taking place, and about 40 black people sitting in chairs around the perimeter of the office quietly and politely.

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It reminded me of the above event from last year when all staked out their seats in a covered picnic area, loaded with railroad collectibles hanging from the ceiling. The people were glued to their seats, and were not going to give them up until fed. Same thing for the fish fry last week. They had all evening, they would listen to all the speakers, and then they would eat. Never mind how slow the start was. We, starving, left to go eat pizza as the event had yet to be born. Should have learned this stuff by now. It made me think of the Old South and the new black voters and getting out the vote. And generations of black families doing as they had seen done before.

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