Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Laundry Mats and "Getting Along"

When I was just out-of-school, I did not have a washer or dryer. I imagine many people were in this boat, though not-so-much anymore with instant credit for college graduates. But in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I frequented Laundromats. Not for dating, but because I had no washer-dryer and occasionally I wore clean clothes (a joke).

Now, for some of you who have been reading for a while, I have OCD. Think about this for a moment – young, college grad woman who has OCD and is using the Laundromat. Yes, using appliances to wash her undies where other people who have less stringent hygiene habits who are also washing their undies in the same appliances. Completely grosses me out. But without cash or a place to put the washer/dryer combinations, I was using the Laundromat down the street. Well, not just down-the-street, but close-to-home.

Anyway, I was sitting on one of the tables, reading a book one evening, doing my laundry. I can't remember the book I was reading, but knowing me, it was some really big book (that, in my mind, I could have used as a weapon on others, since I was by myself in a Laundromat). A big book that I wanted to read. To this, you would need to think, "How utilitarian of you, dear Leesa."1

I look up from my book, and an elderly black man is sitting in a chair fairly near me. He had a thin frame, salt-and-pepper hair, more salt than pepper. Nice smile. When I looked up, he caught my eye. I smiled.

He said, "Friday night, and you are reading. I bet you are smart."

I giggled. I did not mean to giggle, but I did. And we started talking.

We started talking about race relations. Not sure how it got there. Okay, maybe there was basketball on the television, and we started talking about basketball. He thought it was odd that I did not like Larry Bird – I did not like him because my Daddy did not like him. I knew squat about basketball, but I Daddy always said that if Larry Bird played as good as the announcers said he played, he would be a great player. My Daddy said Larry Bird's accomplishments were overblown because he was white, and I believed him. Anyway, this started the conversation.

This gentleman was a grandfather. I don't remember the whole conversation, but I will never forget something that he said. He said his grand-daughter and my children may live in a better world, a world where the color of one's skin is something to note, but not to overshadow other aspects of their being. He said that he learned to hate white people from his upbringing, and when he was talking about this, I recalled small things that "colored" my thinking. He said it was too late for me, that I had already been brainwashed, but that my children would have a chance to live in a more colorblind world.2

You know, at the time, I did not believe the grandfather, but over time, I have come to realize his wisdom. Not that I think I am a lost soul, as it relates to my ability to judge others on their own attributes and not the color of their skin, but as a society, it is extremely hard to change one person, let alone many people in society. The grandfather, I have come to realize, was saying that he had no hope that his generation nor mine would change their views deep down, but perhaps the following generation may have a better chance at starting from more scratch and looking past certain physical traits.

The Rodney King trial in the 1990s. Who was on trial? The four police officers? Society as a whole? If so, why do we still call it the Rodney King trial? He was not on trial.

Laundromats and baseball parks. That's where you think about race.

1Now I am slowly teaching you how to think. In a few short months, I will take over the world with my mind control. Well, maybe not the world. Maybe take over New Zealand.

2Part of me laughs and says "Ha, didn't know I am infertile." The bitter part of me, that is.


QUASAR9 said...

Now why couldn't it been I the lucky one who happened to venture into that same Launderette, and got chatting to a fresh faced Leesa, washing her undies

QUASAR9 said...

Great story Leesa,
we are gradually overcoming all the prejudices: sex, race, religion

And replacing them with ability to pay. If you can pay - you are in - it diesn't the colour of your skin, who your father & mother were, or what you believe.
(except that is for the one obvious exception on Earth).

And if you cannot pay - tough
Doesn't matter what race, religion or sex or nation or tongue you speak!

kathi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kathi said...

I can understand, and I do see it changing. My great grandparents, grandparents, and my parents were all raised in or around klans people, and it was completely normal for them. It changed with my sister and I; and I appreciate those who gave me that example to follow and look up to: MLK, the Kennedy brothers, Nelson Mandela. My kids didn't have these kind of 'in the news' role models, but I hope I was able to immitate them well enough for my boys to have gotten out of me a fraction of what I got out of these men.

~Deb said...

It’s sad but, a lot of us have been brought up to literally segregate from those who are different. And, the scariest thing is the stereotype that people put upon us, that we put upon others. That gentleman was absolutely right. It’s brainwashing. It never goes away. Can it fade? Maybe, but we will always have that small seed in our head reminding us of what we were brought up with. Our children do have a chance. They can live a colorblind world, if people can let go of the “past” and realize that our ancestors were wrong. We pay the price for what others have done in the past. It’s resentment that led throughout the years.

Ian Lidster said...

Yes, take over New Zealand, see how it goes, and then move on to other conquests.
Your conversation in the laundromat reminds me of a passage in Faulkner's 'Go Down Moses,' in which an elderly redneck (but with a soul) is pondering the relationship between the races, and muses that it must come to pass that white and black come together, because the way it is now (in the 1940s) is wrong, but then he closes with, "But please Lord, not in my lifetime." In other words, it was too much for his generation to swallow.
Good post, Leesa. You invariably give me food for thought.


Cinderella said...

The laundromat is one exciting place sometimes!! I just hate how people gawk at you as you put your laundry in the washers. It's like WTF??

But you can meet some interesting people there! hahaha!!

Ian Lidster said...

Sorry the Faulkner book should have been 'Absalom Absalom'. Well, it was a long time ago that I read it.


RWA said...

Isn't it funny how you meet very intelligent, street-wise people in the strangest places?

I've seen the changes in generations - from my grandfather to my parents to me. It has been rapid, but there has been change.

I don't know that we will ever completely eliminate the bigotry and racism, but I think is shrinking.

Miss Gina said...

I don't like the term colorblind because it implies that we won't even notice people's skin color...which is absurd.

I like what he said about how a person's skin color will be noted, but it won't overshadow other aspects of their being.

p.s. I found your blog via Joe, who was found by a friend of a friend...

Prata said...

Oh how I wish it were changing the way the white people say it is. Is it? Yah maybe a little, but people still lock their car door door when I walk by. People still look at me when I walk into a store to buy something. I don't see them following the 16-17 year old white kids around at the mall. I still get called nigger..or chink or half breed (by some asians). When that stops, then I'll think maybe it's changing the way white people say it is. Trust me, I live life under various shades of skin and you aren't particularly correct about it changing (in the sense that the world seems to be turning to a new line of thinking).

That's not to say that it isn't better than before, but I wasn't alive then and I have what I live through to judge what's good or bad. It ain't no better for me then when I was a teenager some 10 and even 20 years ago. I remember being called colored. So yah.

Leesa said...

quasar9: interesting that pay is becoming more and less relevant at the same time.

kathi: yeah, times they are a changin'.

~deb: you stated, "It’s sad but, a lot of us have been brought up to literally segregate from those who are different." If you look at people and who they chose to congregate with, most do segregate themselves.

ian: I love Faulkner, but I have not read that story.

cinderella: I have actually known two people who have married people they have met in the laundry room.

rwa: I actually think the change has been faster than I would have been expected.

miss gina: joe is great, isn't he?

prata: I think, from what I have read and experienced, it is better. Not wonderful, but better.

Pittchick said...

I used to use a laundromat when I was out of college as well. I never spoke to anyone there though.

I think people have the ability to change their way of thought if they are open to it. I don't think many people are.

Leesa said...

pittchick: I completely agree about people having the ability to change. People rarely change, in my experience.