Carter always wants to talk politics. He lives across the street, alone, and never misses an opportunity to stroll over to my driveway and school me on what’s wrong with the world. He keeps an eye on Broad Avenue from his junk-encrusted front porch, peering out from under his grimy cap and those tin awnings sagging with mildew.
The first time we met, Carter warned me that “the homosexuals” and “the blacks” were in control of everything in this part of town. That this was no longer any place for law-abiding whites like us.
This comment was the first of many of Carter’s greatest hits, including:
“Them folks with all the Halloween decorations? They must be Catholic. You know they can’t be Christian.”
“Can you believe that the people of Illinois elected a black man to be their senator?”
“Why do I need a woman when I’ve got a microwave?”
It's kind of remarkable to witness. Carter practices a form of old-school, matter-of-fact racism that's practically extinct. He’s a pitiful old coot, with his pushbroom mustache and mis-buttoned workshirts. He lives off a military pension, the proceeds of recycled scrap metal, and TV dinners. Just off-kilter and lonely and wanting to talk.
"Let me tell you something," he tells me. "I was born in Coffee County, Georgia." As if that justifies everything.
Undyingly cordial to my elders, I usually listen to him the first minute or two, becoming more curt as the topic turns to the liberals and the Chinese. “I gotta run, Carter," I say. "But I’ll bring you some grapefruit this afternoon.” I didn’t take him too seriously a few weeks ago when he started telling me about how this housing crisis was caused by lazy minorities who had no intention of paying their mortgages. Oh naturally, I thought. Blame the black people. Let's blame space aliens too.
So I was surprised to hear a kindred sentiment coming from the mouth of one of my peers at a dinner party this weekend. Four of us, young and college-educated, were gathered at a tidy suburban kitchen when the topic turned to The Economy.
“My father-in-law is real conservative," my friend began, distancing himself. "And he says that the banks changed the rules because the government was trying to encourage more minority homeowners. And those people got more house than they could afford, that's where all this started.”
I concentrated on my salad. That sounded completely wrong to me. And familiar.
I stewed over this through dessert– cinnamon rolls– and then the ride home from Gwinnett County. I could hardly wait to get home and get on the computer and google up a decent rebuttal. Who's spreading this rumor? Who's buying it? That the global financial meltdown– from Dubai to Vegas to Iceland– all this was triggered by, what? affirmative action? The culprit isn't greed but, reckless generosity?
And I found plenty of liberal articles denouncing what the conservative pundits were saying. I didn't need the Washington Post to recognize the simmering, half-formed racism beneath this explanation. It's Carter's crap, dressed up for dinner.