SUBSURDITY II: Trayvon, PTA Moms and the Race Thing

I actually didn’t even want to write this post. Really, I didn’t. But recent events have forced my hand. I told you a little about the suburbs in our last little Subsurdity post (granted, I also told you a little about Handsy Schmancy too). What I didn’t tell you, or might have only alluded to, was how race works its way into the seedy underbelly of the suburbs. Now that a Black kid is dead and his White-Hispanic killer is free…well, I have to say something.  And, apparently, it’s a lot. Sorry about that.

When I talked about the burbs last, I spoke in class terms—what your husband does, what you drive, how much wine you can afford. That’s money stuff. That’s class. No one really talks about race though; it doesn’t even come up that often honestly. Enough that you’d think it doesn’t even exist in the wonderful suburbs. Until you look at your kid’s class pictures and see those three brown spots. You know the ones I’m talking about: the Kim girl, the little boy whose last name is all consonants, and James or Charles or Stacy—the Black kid.

Usually that’s all it is—class pictures and birthday parties and awkward Halloweens. Until the slavery unit. Until you get a call from an elementary school teacher wanting to make sure your child wasn’t too “uncomfortable” when they discussed the Civil Rights Movement. Until your child wants to date and can’t bring anything home that looks like him or her.

Then things get “weird.”

Here’s why: the United States is a capitalist society, which means those with more—the Haves—are intrinsically worth more to society than those who have less—the Have Nots. The Haves and the Have Nots, aside from being a Tyler Perry show, are classes. Upper, middle, lower. But you know this stuff. They beat us over the head with it every election cycle. That class stuff, that’s how our society is organized, horizontally, like this:

Upper
Middle
Lower

But the United States has a very interesting relationship with race (I think you know why) and our society is also organized vertically by race, like so:

White Asian Hispanic Black Native American

You read this from left to right. What that means is the race on the left has more social worth than the race on the right. So that means a better picture of what our society really looks like is this:

WhiteUpper AsianUpper HispanicUpper BlackUpper Native AmericanUpper
WhiteMiddle AsianMiddle HispanicMiddle BlackMiddle Native AmericanMiddle
WhiteLower AsianLower HispanicLower BlackLower Native AmericanLower

That means the White Lower Class person has more social value than the Black Upper Class person. Keep in mind, I’m not shooting for technical accuracy with my little chart; I’m going for conceptual understanding. You know you understand what I’m trying to say. And don’t let me start on gender. That opens an even more complex scenario for our little discussion. And before you come at me with, “Chris, I don’t think—” SHUT UP! Just shut up! Before you get started, I know I talk about villains and cartoons and movies and shit, but I actually have two TWO degrees in this nonsense. Did you know that? I have degrees in both Sociology and Urban Studies—I am an Urban Sociologist. This is my nice way of saying “I know what the fuck I’m talking about.” And you are not allowed to respond with the “plight of the white male” bullshit. For real. Don’t start.

So what does this have to do with the suburbs? The truth is, the suburbs are racist as shit! Now I could give you all kinds of examples but I think I’ll just tell you a story. You know that’s why you came anyway, right?

When we first moved to Seattle, we found a nice development about 25-30 miles north of the city. We moved in and the neighbors came out and welcomed us and everything. Things were cool. For about 2 months.

See, Schmancy isn’t the only one with the Jungle Fever brand of curiosity. It’s actually a touch more prevalent in the suburbs than you would imagine—remind me to tell you about the co-worker who got drunk at a winery and then suggested a foursome because she “was a California girl and had never been with a Black man” and her husband’s thing was too sma—well, you know. So take that curiosity thing (which quickly turns into jealousy when folks can hear your “exploits” because it’s hot and the windows are open because Seattle doesn’t believe in air conditioning) and the race/class thing and combine that with the PTA President with the “snuffleupagus” husband two houses down and suddenly my kids are little “monkeys” who can’t buy popcorn in school and my wife is a “nigger-lover.”

Yep. That. Really. Happened.

Let me give you a little backstory, because in the Soap Opera Suburbs, nothing ever is as it seems. Shortly after we moved in, another family moved in across the street. I affectionately called these folks The Clampetts because, well, Hillbillies took too long to say. Anyway, when new folks move in, the bit—er, ladies—swoop in to make sure the newcomers choose the right “sides.” As Mrs. Clampett makes her rounds in the neighborhood, she shows up on my door, making nice with my wife. And asking for pills. Yep, young Mrs. Clampett had a “migraine” and her doctor wouldn’t prescribe her anything so she came to the one woman on the street who MUST have painkillers because she walks around looking like she’s smuggling two midgets underneath her shirt.

Days pass, my wife makes a comment to one of the other mothers on the street about Mrs. Clampett’s odd request (and the fact that she keeps coming back for pills). The other mother quickly informs her that Mrs. Clampett actually lost her nursing license for stealing prescription meds and has a known drug addiction. (This, too, really happened.) When my wife cuts off all contact with the addict, Mrs. Clampett runs to the PTA Mom across the street, finagles the racial-slur-laden name-calling from said PTA Mom, and then comes back to our house, essentially selling these slurs for pills. You catch that? Fucked up, huh? (She didn’t get any pills, by the way. Instead she got fireworks).

You many not know this but my wife is a pretty headstrong individual. And I gotta be honest: the White girl from Cincinnati has more street smarts than the Black kid from Saint Paul. So when she found that she and her kids were called names, the Wife decided to address it. Right then. Right when the kids were getting off the bus from school. So when the PTA Mom stood on her porch and told my wife, “If you have something to say to me, come say it to my face,” well, my wife brought it to her face. With a left hook and shove.

That was my favorite part.

Since then, we moved, Mrs. Clampett remains an addict, and the PTA Mom has since decided to re-evaluate her perspective on life and has offered us mad apologies. See? Happy ending.

My point here is the suburbs are a breeding ground of seething, but unexpressed, racial tension. The rules aren’t any different, the approach is. The suburbs are just intolerance disguised by nice landscaping. And because that class thing is so prevalent, suburbanites generally believe they are above such base ideas as racial prejudice. But they love this idea of value and worth—and who is worth more. See, the suburbs are competition realized in landscaping and sports cars, private schools and vacations, granite countertops and berber carpeting. It’s all about who is better than whom. And since you understand from our little sociology lesson how social value—how a person’s intrinsic worth—is calculated in the good ol USA, it’s easy to see how a 17-year-old Black kid with saggy pants would meet his end at the hands of an over-zealous, White-Hispanic Neighborhood Watchman. And it’s easy to see how the killer would then go free. One simply matters more.

Only in the suburbs.

UPDATE:

A friend of mine sent me this YouTube that pretty much sums up what I’m talking about. And it’s really funny too!

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2 thoughts on “SUBSURDITY II: Trayvon, PTA Moms and the Race Thing

  1. I grew up in Midwest suburbs, then moved to the South, and came to realize that Midwestern suburbanites are REALLY racist. And while racism in the South isn’t pretty, it’s at least out in the open and can be discussed. In the Midwest, no one is willing to admit to racism and therefore it’s a lot more difficult to tackle.

    For example, I’m not currently on speaking terms with my mom because my six-year-old son would come home from her house wanting to know why his step-grandfather “hates black people and wants to shoot the president.” When I brought this up to my mom, asked my step-dad to stop, and then when it continued told her my son didn’t want to be around him, she told me first that he never said stuff like that, then that “everyone is entitled to their opinion.” I’m all for postmodernism but not when you’re so offensively wrong.

    Point is, I doubt your neighbors even realize they’re acting like idiots unless it’s explicitly pointed out to them. Zimmerman’s the same way; he and his supporters still don’t think they did anything wrong. And that’s the overarching problem; how do you combat racism, and classism, when people won’t even admit anything’s wrong?

  2. I’m from the Midwest too – the Twin Cities – but went to school in the South. I agree, racism in the South is easier to deal with. It’s real and raw and in your face. As abhorrent as that is, it’s easier to deal with. In the North, in the Midwest, that covert racism shit is tough to deal with.

    And you’re right, they don’t believe they’re racist. They don’t believe they are offensive. I think it falls in the ideas of class. We’re better than them because they do not have or are not as good…oh, and they’re this race/creed/color/sexual orientation.

    Sorry about your situation with your mom. That has to be tough. I applaud you for sticking to your guns though.

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