I own a copy of “The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book.”
Yes, that Jefferson Davis.
Yes, the Confederate president or czar or whatever the title be.
And, yes, I alluded to it a few stories ago when I plucked it from a North Center dumpster and, yes, I do plan to completely mock its belligerent racism when I do my next “Chicago Review of Terrible Books” for Third Coast Review.
And, yes, that was a plug.
But now I don’t want to talk about belligerent, mockable, historical relic (1980s) racism.
I want to talk about Chicago. About America. About white culture in 2016.
It goes like this:
On Jan 21, 2016, I walked into a South Side medical center to meet a friend. I wore the dirty old pea coat I’ve worn for a decade plus sumpthin, a somewhat muggerish stocking hat and a beard I’ve recently grown but have convinced myself looks like Commander Riker instead of skeevy ratty coat hat man.
After walking straight past the security guard, I lingered in the second-floor hallway for no good reason.
A lady passed by. She smiled at me.
Scrubby, scruffy, no reason to be there, I got smiled at rather than questioned and credentialed.
That’s white privilege.
My friend and I hopped in his car to head down Western Avenue to a reading on the souther South Side. As the night dimmed and the city turned neon, we went through what I once called and call again a pinwheel of color.
Black neighborhoods, brown, black, brown spinning around before we ended up in Beverly, in the land of the South Side white. Each neighborhood a distinct color of resident, very little crossing the lines.
The event was lovely, a live lit reading with more shades of skin than most you’ll find on the North Side. But the whole experience reminded me of “The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book,” soon to be mocked in a different blog.
It’s easy to make fun of stupid, obvious, silly racism. It’s easy to look at “The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book,” read about how the Civil War was really about states’ rights and how Abolitionists really made slavery a big deal when it wasn’t and just feel nice about yourself.
It’s easy to tut tut more obvious forms of racism and cast a blind eye to your own.
I live in white privilege every day, and I’m not going to stop. Any place I please will let me use the bathroom. I don’t get questioned or prodded when I’m going about my business. I’m more likely to get a job, less likely to have certain health statistics apply to me and, you know what? It’s just sort of swell. A lot’s geared toward me and mine. It’s nice to have so much of the world laid out for you.
“The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book” is silly and stupid, and deserves to be mocked. It will in the other blog.
But it’s dangerous because it is so stupid. It’s so obviously wrong, it momentarily distracts from the living, viable racism around every day in this city. It gives a bit of moral high in a city that needs to feel low in order to realize how much work needs to be done.
A woman of my acquaintance likens white privilege to the moving sidewalk at the airport. Do nothing and you’re still carried along it. You have to walk against it.
I don’t yet know how to walk against it, in what way my contributions would be useful beyond pledges of equality that seem to save my soul but improve no one’s life.
But in this segregated city with pinwheel neighborhoods, smiled-at ratty coat men and moving sidewalk privilege carrying us toward a destination we don’t want to reach, I’m trying to figure it out. I hope that means more someday than just saving my own moral high ground.
Until I figure that out, I’ll take a little solace in the fact I take no solace in being better than “The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book.”