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

Race in the South
by James Glaser
September 22, 2007

Now I'm not claiming to be an expert about American race relations in the South, far from it. I moved down here from a small town in Northern Minnesota, and I kid you not, some people would bring there kids to the restaurant if a black man or woman came to town, because the only chance they got to see one was on television or in the movies. This was a few years ago, (six) and now a couple of families have gone to Africa to adopt some children. No, I don't know why they had to go all the way across the ocean to adopt, but that seems the way it goes now a days.

I know about the small town of Jena, Louisiana that is having race problems. If you are following the story, you would have to believe that the white kids who hung the three rope nooses on the playground tree have to be mentally retarded if they didn't know that action was much more than a prank. Actually I would bet somebody older came up with the idea.

I imagine the residents there pretty much freaked out when thirty plus thousand protesters descended on their town of three thousand. I wonder if they had enough restrooms and water?

That whole episode has shown us that race relations are still touchy down here. Like I said, I'm not an expert, but I can tell you that black people and white people are in two totally different cultures. It is true that there are some white people who try to be black, and some blacks who try to be white, but down here, both of those groups are in the minority.

For me, being a transplant, I have a hard time understanding the language of both groups, especially if they don't have much of an education. I'll admit it, unless they are trying real hard to communicate, I don't understand much of what black people say to me. It isn't just the words, but also the cadence of their speech pattern. It is about the same with uneducated white folks, but now get this, these two groups can converse with each other, even though they use different words to say the same thing.

Most white people down here have a good education, and if they don't speak too fast, I can catch on what they are saying. There are a lot of black people with good educations too. After all, right here in Tallahassee we have Florida A&M, a predominantly black university, and Florida State, which has a large black student body. Many of the graduates of those two schools stay here in this city and work for the State, County, or City government, but, at least for me, black public employees speak a different language.

I bet they hate to deal with me, they must think that I am deaf, because I keep having to say, "What?" After a few "whats?," I find they can switch to English, and tell me what I have to do.

I know this isn't just me and other white people who come down here from the North. I have a black friend who runs a private school here in Tallahassee, and when I tell him my problem of understanding what they said down at City Hall, he right away says, "And they had their hair all done up nice like, and they had long long painted fingernails right?"

He hit it on the head, and he's not the only one with that description. Most men, and some women will describe a trip to any government office down here like this, "Yea, she was one of those black women with the long fingernails." Usually it is a story about how they couldn't figure out what was what after that trip to try and comply with some government regulation. Just maybe, the government trains these women to be this way. I don't get the long fingernails, but they all seem to have them. I talking real long fingernails, painted all sorts of colors, and they have to type with them.

Some black guys speak the same way the government women do. They seem like nice enough people, and every one that has had his kids along, I have found has nice kids, but they are speaking in a different language. Once they realize that you have not a clue of what they are saying, if they want to, they can switch to English, but for some you can tell they are a little rusty with that American language and they have to stop and think about what word to use. It is like some Russian that is over here trying to get by with his new found English, and he does alright, but he is a little short on vocabulary.

I am sure if these black people came up to Northern Minnesota, some of them would have a hard time with the older Swedes, Finlanders, and Norwegians. However, up North, the young people all speak like anyone else. Down South I find the opposite. I have a good chance of understanding an older black person, and a very hard time understanding younger blacks.

That I think is why it appears race relations are going backwards. Older black people, those who worked so hard in the civil rights movement realized back then they had to speak a language that was the same as the whites if they wanted to communicate what they felt was wrong with the way they were being treated. Because they were speaking the same language, they made great strides in getting their rights. Younger Black people to me, have an attitude that says, "I have these rights and I don't have to talk to you anymore, in fact I'm not going to. You have to learn my language if you want to talk to me.

Well it doesn't work that way here in America. We have one language that every one has a chance to learn in school. (That would be English) You can choose to speak what ever you want, but if one group decides not to talk to the other, then divides grow and races drift farther apart.

This might get me in trouble, but what I see down here in the South is that Blacks want to be separate and Whites want to be separate. Like I said there are the exceptions, but as a whole the two races tend to stay apart. Now the Black race in the South is developing its own language, much like they have their own sense of style, their own brand of humor, their own churches, their own music, and their own taste in food.

To me, black people want to be separate, but equal, and I think that is fine, but I don't think it will work. As the two races are less and less able to communicate, more and more problems will arise. Some one will hear some body talking and take offense, because they know the words, but they don't know the language nor the context the word was used in, and trouble will flair up.

Just last night Jessie Jackson was on television talking about what was going on with those 30,000 people marching in Jena, Louisiana. The man was on national television having a chance to tell the nation what was going on, and he blew it. I am sure every black person, at least the ones from down South knew what he was saying, but most of White America tuned him out, because he wasn't speaking English. Yes, he was using English words, but he had that Black cadence going, and he had short choppy sentences that made no sense to me. He knew the story backwards and forwards, but the rest of us didn't. So, his short phrases did nothing to educate America of what the problem was. Black America needs a new spokesman if they want the rest of us to understand what they are upset about.

The only way to over come racism is for both races to talk to each other. If one of those races decides to change the language they will use, communication becomes impossible. Both sides drift farther apart, and soon we will be right back to where we were back in the 1950s.

We have a lot of problems in this country and racism is one of the big ones. Before we start telling the rest of the world how to live their lives, we had best get our own house in order.

Post Script:

I tried sending this column in yesterday, but couldn't get on the internet. That can be both frustrating and relaxing at the same time.

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