Yesterday was my day off. I spent a good part of it at the central library in downtown Canton. My only daughter, Maria, is a reluctant homeschooler and we like to find a lot of things for her to do outside the home. She was attending a workshop on therapeutic touch for pets; she loves animals of all sorts. With humans she is more selective.
So I spent time in the computer room.
Across from me was a young black man. He had headphones on and was singing aloud to the rap music he was listening to. About every other word was “nigga” or “fuck” and he accompanied this with gestures, sort of dancing in his seat.
This was, of course, distracting, but the other patrons and the staff pretended not to notice.
You must choose your battles wisely in contemporary America. I, too, was silent, though if my daughter was with me I would have risked confrontation and said something (and from past experience I have learned that most people are apologetic at the surprise news that they are disturbing or offending someone else, if you tell them politely).
Two seats down from the young black man was a bearded white guy in camo. On his baseball cap was a Confederate flag. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he too ignored the disruptive black man. The rapping man was not surly; he smiled and joked occasionally with his neighbors, including the stars and bars man. He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that there was anything offensive or distracting in his behavior.
If he noticed the flag on the guy’s hat he didn’t let on.
After the black man left, an older white guy came into the room, muttering loudly to himself.
Again, no one seemed to pay any attention, though this too was annoying.
Welcome to diverse America, where we try not to quarrel, even when people are perceived as rude or offensive. The situation was wrought with implicit tension; such tolerance isn’t exactly the I Have a Dream speech. It’s not the Beloved Community. But it is better than the alternative. It was more like what I remember from when I lived in New York City, where no one would bat an eye at anything.
We tolerate what a few years ago would have been intolerable or unthinkable. Social mores have broken down, there is no common ground.
But few think it is worth a war.
And one can only hope the truce holds.