09 July, 2007

An Insuprable Gulf?

Sunday I was working as a bike valet at the Taste Of Chicago. This basically meant that I was standing in the hot sun, from 3PM to 10PM, checking in peoples bikes, hiking them up a slight hill filled with racks, and then retrieving them later. It was hot, sweaty work, I've been doing it for the whole ten days of the fest', and now I'm as brown as an Indian. (It's okay for me to say that, because I am part Omaha Indian, and the "N-Word Rule" applies here.) So Sunday there were four of us standing around, when two negro boys, probably twelve-year-olds, came up and asked us how much it cost to rent the bikes. This is a common question, as our station is not very well marked as a valet service, and so one of my co-workers, Travis, explained that we weren't renting bikes but parking them.

Hearing this, one of the boys tried to enter the compound, saying: "Let me have one o'them bikes!"

Travis blocked him and the rest of us got up quickly to back him up if there were trouble. Travis answered the boy in a calm, almost joking voice: "Hey, we'd be in trouble if there were any bikes missing!"

Boy: "What's it to ya? You're rich!"

The boys went off without further trouble, but I think this illustrates a dangerous class division in America today. This negro boy was operating under the assumption, one that I think is widespread among his compatriots, that all whites are rich. It was not self-evident to him that no one who was "rich" would be standing out in the sun, on one of the hottest days of the year, performing menial labor. No — to him Travis was white, he must be rich.

What kind of working class solidarity is possible if Negroes, most of whom are working class, think of all whites as being "rich?" More importantly — what can we do to dispel this notion and shift American politics away from a racial divide and towards a class divide?

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