Ask Your Mama

“I got a question.”

I didn’t see him—or the other kid with him—approaching. In their teens, I’d guess. My back was turned to them. I was interviewing a lady selling stuff in a tent. This was late last century, in Savannah, when I worked for the daily newspaper. Savannah has a lot of festivals. I don’t recall what this one was—Greek, German, something.
The teens looked middle-class, clean cut. They were carrying cups, drinking. A lot of drinking goes on during these festivals. The kid with the question was closer to me. His face was likely reddened from the liquor I smelled, and he looked a little nervous. If only belatedly, I wasn’t surprised something smart-ass would come with the smirk.

“What about these welfare people?”

Laughing, he and his boy walked off.

The way the lady in the tent looked both sheepishly and angrily down told me what I thought had happened, happened.

I love it that Mitt Romney’s comments about the lazy 47 percent have become public.

They don’t pay federal taxes, Romney earlier this year reminded his wealthy donors at a meeting he apparently didn’t know was filmed, or if he did, didn’t know the film would find its way to Mother Jones magazine. No need to even court these natural Obama-ites, Romney added, those who “believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it.”

He didn’t mention that most of those people pay federal payroll taxes or that they are elderly, disabled, or working their butts off but still making too little money to pay federal taxes.

He didn’t mention that most of the moochers are white.

As David Brooks wrote in the New York Times column yesterday, “They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees.”

Romney didn’t have to say that wasn’t who he was talking about. Not in that room. Everybody in that room knew who he was talking about: the apparently innately un-ambitious, Ray-gun’s welfare queens—and kings.

Black people.

This is the rightwing narrative. This is pretty much all they talk about.

Blacks are blamed for just about every terrible domestic thing. The housing crisis had nothing to do with banks’ risky casino-like trading of derivatives. Six black people didn’t pay their mortgages, mortgages they got only because banks feared being called racist had they not loaned them the money, and the economy collapsed. Yeah, I know. What about Georgia, my neck of the woods, where so many small banks collapsed? Not many blacks are known for getting loans from the good-ol’-boy banks. What happened there?

There are out and out racists who actually get paid huge sums of money to broadcast these lies—to millions. For some reason, so many in a single race just don’t wanna work. I guess they’re refusing the myriad lucrative job offers of going on radio and lying for three hours a day. They’d rather sit on their butts and get $300 a month in welfare. All that lying—-and you know them— is just too much work.

For this to be so out there, so accepting, is nothing short of the continuation of the assault under which blacks have endured since their sojourn to these strange shores. This is the verbal equivalent of involuntary servitude, whether in its rawest form of capture and chains, or later, as was brazenly common in the South particularly up until the sixties, of the formality of imprisoning black men for subsequent free labor, or now, of the war on drugs as an excuse to lock up so many young black males. This is the verbal equivalence of the entertainment community’s negative portrayals of black life and the often subtle but constant put-downs of darkness and big-butts—unless it’s on a non-black.

“Definitionless in this strict atmosphere,” the late poet Gwen Brooks wrote. This is the kind of stuff that invades black personal space and is with them thick as a March wind on their way to work, shop, or party and always in their interactions with each other. This is the air that induces a black person to call into one of these shows to agree with the bigoted analysis as if that betrayal would make him different in the host’s eyes and in which a black president feels he can’t say the word black. This is the air in which blacks, against all odds, raise their children.

Yes, it’s painful. But it’s good the meme is out there, so publicly out there, leaving little room for hiding, feigned ignorance, or tacit or not so down-low trade-offs.

The reactionary forces changed a word here and there, but they never slept.

Sometimes you just have to smash stuff.

I just looked at the two teens stumbling away, sort of congratulating themselves at their dig at the black reporter. The element of surprise had frozen me, I guess. Not so my alter-ego, Swanee B. Downside.

“Ask,” he shouted at them, “your mama.”

Each syllable buckled their backs, adding a new swerve to their drunken sway.

The media are all over Romney about this, aren’t they? Sometimes you’re surprised at who’s waiting for you.

I figured Downside had accomplished what he’d intended when I looked at the lady in the tent and she smiled.