Linda Clark-Borre

Do You Live in a Sundown Town? Do I?

06/16/2012 22:46


No, it’s not a retirement community. A sundown town is a place that permits people of races other than Caucasian to pass through it, provided “the one who is different” gets out by sunset.

I'm not saying Chico is a Sundown town. But we are uncomfortably close to those that are, and though I hate to say it, there’s plenty of spillover especially at the Chico Wal-Mart.

Re: my claim about Chico, my view may be a little bit more forgiving, and a lot more optimistic, than those of my black friends here. During a recent Tea Party gathering in the plaza of our little city (California is far from the liberal state most people outside of it perceive that it is, especially North State Cal) one of those friends, whose identity/profession I won’t reveal, shared details of a conversation with a T.P. participant. In response to questions about just what the gathered group was representing, my friend was told that they wanted to be sure things didn’t change too much more. Three second stare. You know.

Oh yeah, my friend knew, having had enough interactions with others in Chico in the past couple of years to have gotten the point many times over. She’s been sharing with me all along; invariably we end up looking at each other, shaking our heads.

Here, the liberal politics of the University collides with ultra-conservative agriculturalists (as opposed to the weed-o-culturists) who drive by as if on patrol in tricked out flatbed trucks fitted with manly gun racks.

And those could well be the nice guys.

In the past week here in my town:

  1. A man in a hot tub store told me that the test strips he always carried with him were very helpful when traveling. Not long ago, he said, he traveled through the South and stayed in a hotel which happened to be hosting a Southern Black Baptist convention. These people were “very nice, very polite” he said, but he couldn’t use the hotel spa because “they” were always in it, and “my test strip turned green. You know what that means.”  Here’s what it meant to me: I didn’t want to buy a damn thing from the guy’s shop and walked out.
  2. In several different shopping trips, I came across a) a guy wearing a T-shirt that said “Skin” in German Gothic letters with an arrow pointing up to his head b) a guy with a tee that read “One of the People” in German and c) a guy with a Homeland Security tee that featured photos of tattooed skinhead with guns. His baby-faced son, too young as yet for tattoos of his own, swaggered behind him.
  3. A young African-American man told me today of his brother having been shot and killed at home several years ago after he and his family had moved from the Midwest. His father had taken a professional job in a nearby city. Theirs is, by the way, a spiritual and hardworking family. The criminal was caught and convicted of manslaughter and given 16 years in prison - reduced by half on appeal, which meant he served four years.

I am painfully aware of bigotry as it exists most everywhere, including Chicago. I felt it strongly in Indianapolis and other cities.  But from my limited experience, the small town variety is especially creepy because there appears to be greater tacit acceptance of those who show off their prejudice as they are ever so eager to do. (Or maybe I don't know enough people here yet.) In any case, it's hard to account for the leisure apparel.

 I, too, just walk past these guys as my stomach turns. What’s there to say?  My husband, a Jewish guy with a doctorate in organizational behavior, says he’s afraid the human race is hard wired for prejudice (perceptual grouping). No excuse except that we are at the mercy of our own dark, stupid selves, apparently...unless we learn, get experience, something many adults aren't inclined to do when their minds are closed and locked.

So I try to forget the men I have just described.  But I have a harder time forgetting the baby-faced boy following Dad’s swagger, the innocent gosling being imprinted by the gander.

For him, I have a message, and I hope one day he receives it.

Young man, my wish for you is that one day you wake up and realize that by an accident of birth you are surrounded by a bunch of smart-a** racists.  May you dwell in possibility, may you awaken one day to see where you’re headed and choose another path – as beyond that world as you can get - if not physically, as far inside your own head as your unencumbered mind will allow.

It can be done. Know it. Do it.


Interesting related links:

They really are all over the place – and this is just one hate group: