by guest contributor Macon D, originally published at Stuff White People Do
I made the mistake of going to a local grocery store yesterday when it was very crowded, so I had to spend a long time in line, leaning on my grocery cart. I like to occupy myself at such moments by flipping through those parts of the tabloids that show celebrities at their worst, usually on a beach somewhere.
This time, though, I became engrossed by a conversation that I couldn’t help overhearing, between two middle-aged white women who were right behind me in line. They didn’t mind waiting, with melting frozen pizzas and ice cream, because they were glad to have run into each other.
They had some catching up to do because they hadn’t seen each other in awhile, and I was especially intrigued by their discussion about a long-lost mutual friend.
“Right, Beth!” one of them said. “I haven’t seen her in, oh, ten years, I’d say.”
“Well, you’d be surprised,” the other woman said. “She moved out to California.”
“Yeah? So tell me about it. When did she move?”
“About five years ago. But the surprising part is that she married a black guy.”
Now, as I write this, I realize that I don’t know of a way to indicate whispering in written dialogue, without somehow saying outside of that dialogue that the speaker is doing so. Italics mean the opposite–they indicate various forms of emphasis. I can’t think of a way to indicate, typographically, that this white woman had lowered her head a bit, and then lowered her voice, as she basically whispered the word “black.”
“Oh,” the other woman said. “Um. So?”
Good for you, I thought, as other woman’s face reddened a bit.
“Well,” she said, “that’s just surprising.”
“Why?” said the other woman. “A lot of people do that now.”
“Yeah, well. I guess I just never thought that Beth would do that.”
It was my turn to unload my cart, so I missed the rest of their catching-up. But I think that part of it was over anyway.
What interested me, of course, was that whispering by a white person of the word “black.” I’ve heard white people do that many times, and I’m not fully sure why they do it. Not that all of those who do it necessarily do it for the same reason. Or reasons.
One probable reason that a lot of white people whisper the word “black” is that they think it’s impolite to mention race. America is supposed to be “colorblind” now, and so, the common white thinking goes, “we” are not supposed to notice race, let alone point it out. Or even name it. So, when we do point it out, we we should do that . . . discreetly. Continue reading