Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

I Have A Lot To Learn
by James Glaser
July 11, 2008

I've been living in the South now for two years, and was starting to think I kind of understood how things work down here, but I was only fooling myself. My studio is right next to Florida A&M University, a predominantly black school. There is something right there I don't understand yet. Black or African American? I never know which one to use.

When I was in the Marines, there weren't any African Americans. Guys that were black, called themselves black. We called them Corporal, or Private, or Sir, if they were officers, but if the were friends, we called them what ever there name was. Like Gary or Bob, or Lamont. So, I never know what is the right thing to say. "Hey Dude" seems to work with some guys, at least it does if you have a smile with it.

Yesterday, this black guy comes into my gallery and he is walking all around asking questions and seems like a nice guy. He is big. Big like six foot eight, two hundred and eighty pounds, and dressed real nice. There are a lot of professional football players who either went to FAMU or Florida State right here in Tallahassee, but it seems weird asking, "are you a pro-athlete?" What if he was a high school and college star that never made it to the pros? Then you would be making him feel bad, and I guess if he was a pro, and he wanted me to know, he would have told me. However his size and the way he dressed are not what I am writing about. I'm writing about his bumper sticker.

The guy could have been a pro-athlete, as he had a really nice BMW hardtop convertible, but what caught my eye was his bumper sticker that said "Obama is White." Now, I had to ask him about that, and he smiled and said it was a conversation starter, and I bet it is,

After he told me a few funny stories about people yelling at him until they realized that he was black and huge, he told why he picked out that bumper sticker. He told me that he came from Gadsden County, which is just north and west of Tallahassee, and is one of the poorest counties in the State of Florida. He said lots of babies born their have very low birth weights and many children die during delivery. Also, that many poor black and white people are losing their homes by foreclosure.

So, his take on Obama, is that Obama doesn't talk about black issues, either because he thinks it will cost him votes, or he is too white to know about the problems of poor people, especially, black poor people. Either way, at least for this guy, that makes Barack Obama, white. I didn't argue with him.

Another interesting thing I saw last night. I went to the grand opening for a new gallery in town. This gallery is in the high rent district, and mostly it sells jewelry and small art pieces. The people who opened the place are native Floridians, and have lived in Tallahassee for a long, long time. They had a great crowd, wine and cheese, and a guy playing guitar, but what caught my attention was that everyone was white. It was almost like being back in Northern Minnesota, except for the Southern dialects. I have been to a lot of art openings since I came down here, but that was the first segregated crowd I have seen.

Just as an aside. The last time I went to a car show in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, there was a film crew from Europe there doing crowd shots. The film wasn't for any particular movie, they just wanted all white crowds, and had to travel to Northern Minnesota to find one. I guess the Indians blended in as they dressed like everyone else.

So, here I am in the South watching what is going on down here, I still don't understand everything, but it sure is interesting. I tell you what though, I think Barack Obama is pretty white too.

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