Sunday, April 5, 2020
White people library
Recently I discussed with you the curious nature of our curbside pick up at our pandemic battered library and how, unlike the old library, this new version of the library exclusively serves a white clientele. This fascinates me. Earlier in the morning I was out at the front phones and probably sailed past my marker of a hundred people personally helped without a single one of them being a person of color in any way whatsoever. At one point I had processed library materials for a surprising bunch of unrelated people all sharing the last name "Thompson". And I thought to make the joke "I have helped far more people named "Thompson" than I have helped black people over the last week. But I could have included absolutely any non white ethnic group instead in that statement. And then, even more to the point, the joke was meaningless because that same thing was true of every single name I helped! So I started thinking "I have now helped more people named "Braugenkamper" than I have helped any people of color.
It wasn't funny, mind you, but in my current state there was a horrid satisfaction to it.
While I have not personally seen, among a couple hundred visitors I have glimpsed in various contexts over the past week, a single person of color, there have, to be fair, been reports. One of my colleagues said they heard that a slightly crazy regular patron who is black came by to get some holds one day. That sounded pretty conclusive. There were also vague accounts of one other person of color coming by, but I was unable to substantiate it directly.
Of course it all begs the question: Why is this so?
A commenter in my first discussion of this subject proposed as an answer something along the lines of "White people are a bunch of self-centered, self-absorbed assholes!" And the argument certainly has a good deal of merit, both theoretically and historically. I am not here to refute that interpretation. I was more thinking I could add a kind of broadening theory.
My theory is this:
White people are accustomed to relating to a soft authority as fairly optional. They are free to interpret it as they wish. And so the slightly left of center Governor's Stay at Home order, with a focus on "Hey, let's all just pitch in" and "This might not mean you, don't worry" is a kind of friendly suggestion to large sections of the White People community. We are free to run with it where we like and pay it our vague attentions.
Whereas to immigrants and to people of color, all that "gee shucks, soft authority" is a velvet fist they have seen before. That stuff was written for them. They do not have the luxury or the state of relaxation that allows them to gloss over it all and make up their own casual interpretations. They, by history, are compelled to pay attention to it. They can choose how to deal with it once they pay attention, but they have to pay attention first.
And once one has actually paid attention to what's happening one would naturally, prudently do everything one could to stay at home.
I mean unless one was a self-centered, self-absorbed asshole.