Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Resolutions Were Meant to be Broken

I have been meaning to post about this incident for awhile now, but for some reason or another it just has never come out right. So now I am just going to go ahead with it, and damn the torpedoes.

Every Tuesday and Thursday - before my internship at the publishing company - I stop by the Starbucks on Randolph and Wabash for a tall coffee and a croissant, or, barring the availability of any croissants, a blueberry muffin. And, barring the availability of a blueberry muffing, a glazed doughnut, although I personally believe that Starbucks' doughnuts are gross. I just need something to out in my stomach in the morning.

Anyways, back in January - during that period of unbearable coldness - I was sitting in this one particular Starbucks when a homeless man wandered in. Despite being African-American, his hands were white, as in, they were frostbitten to the point of total lack of blood circulation. My guess is that he had spent at least one night out on the streets, maybe more. Also, I don't think that he was altogether there upstairs... he kept talking to himself and was weirdly dancing to the lite jazz that they were playing on the Starbucks corporate radio at eight in the morning. Muttering to himself, he sat down at the counter by the window next to me, when W-, the store manager who, every morning, greets me and every other customer with a "How are you, honey, and what will you have today?", said to this guy: "Excuse me, sir, you'll have to buy something in order to sit there." He responded by getting up from the stool where he was sitting and doing this weird little dance across the cafe floor.

"Sir, please buy something, or I'm going to have to ask you to leave!" said W-.

"Ah, fuck you!" said the guy.

"Sir, I am the store manager, and if you don't buy something or leave, I'm going to have to call the police." said W-.

"You ain't the store manager!" said, the guy, shutting his eyes and rising up in his tippie-toes. "And you know how I know's that? 'Cause you's black!"

And I guess that this is what shocked me about this whole episode. Because, even though it seemed rather apparent to me that this vagrant man wasn't sane, he still had the presence of mind to acknowledge the fact that black people don't own things, that they cannot have a place of authority because they are black, that no black person (let alone a black woman like W-.) could ever rise to the position of store manager.

No cops were called. W-. got pissed and she and her co-worker - also a black woman - showed the homeless man the door. It was cold outside - well below zero - so I don't know if he had the resources or the presence of mind to survive. After he left, the ladies had a laugh at how crazy he was, and then got back to their jobs of serving coffee at (now) eight-thirty in the morning.

And I suppose that my point is this: that four months ago, the homeless man would have had a point, that W-., even if she dared to call herself store manager and even if she had some power to decide who can or cannot come into her store, was never in a position of real power, because she was black. Nobody really ever had to take her seriously. But that the election of Barack Obama has changed alot of that. That is, that he's not a symbol of African-American advancement in America to places of power; he is it. You can't call his position of power merely symbolic or ceremonial. And, not that that's an end to racism in America or anything, but it is the beginning of the end to the idea that any authority wielded by African-Americans is as nothing more than a place-holder, that W.- was only acting out the will of the white male who is her boss. (And, I guess a little unfortunately for this narrative, happens to be Jewish.)

Because Obama is the boss. He's the store manager. He gets to decide who gets to eat and who doesn't.

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