Michelle Obama, the First Lady of These Untied States, has made headlines recently with a comment about suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous racism. I suppose she was lending her sisterly support to such as have suffered the same in the recent past at the hands of the thugs who “serve and protect” us.
She, too, wants to be counted among the sufferers and their Sharptons, their Jacksons abroad in the night…and day…to call attention to the malignity of race difference poisoning the country’s soul; to remind those of us who are privileged and prejudiced of the indignities we daily inflict on everyone not us, whomever we (and they) may be.
She tells a heart wrenching tale of being asked to get something off a shelf in a Target store, saying, “Those kinds of things happen in life.” Those instances of humiliation and hateful racism is what she meant.
The only problem with her story is that the first time she told it, it wasn’t at all racist. As a matter of fact, one might call the moment as she recollected it on some late night TV show an endearing typically American moment; a kind of Norman Rockwell thing.
I married a woman a foot less tall than I am, and I well remember her telling me, and others on more than one occasion that she married me because I could get the stuff on the top shelf.
Had I married a racist? Good Lord, all those years and I never knew! That must be the trouble with racism, so subtle, so insidious, so something or other. I feel debased, now. I am thinking of removing all top shelves from everywhere.
This whole situation reminds me of another incident in my life. I remember the day clearly, though it was a long time ago. I was in my nice blue uniform, the one Customs Port Investigators wear. I was on duty at Pier 84 on the North River, as those piers were styled in New York. I think the vessel may have been the SS United States, or, in any event, a large ocean liner. The well dressed fellow approached me followed by a porter with a hand cart and several pieces of luggage. When he had caught my eye, he reached into his dark overcoat pocket, removed his hand and flipped me a quarter. “Call me a cab,” he said. I caught the coin and flipped it back. Then, I told him he could hail a cab himself since I wasn’t authorized to do so. I could, I added, search his luggage and himself…which for the next 15 minutes I did.
The porter, who was a black man by the way, gave me a wink, a nod and a big smile as he collected his fee from the guy and walked back inside the pier to his next job, leaving Mr. Cabman to fend for himself.
Who was the racist?
And then there’s this. The story the way it happened, without a racial twist in any direction.
Wouldn’t it be nice…?