Brevity Home | Next Essay | Guidelines | Past Issues



Furniture, rental workers, Houston
(excerpt, from the Encyclopedia of Southern Wisenbergs, unpublished)

By Sandi L. Wisenberg

Was it in high school or college? Before and after Passover I would drive to the rental place and pick up and bring back tablecloths and napkins. My mother rented them for our seders, where we had 25 to 30 people. At the rental place, was it one guy or two? I remember one worker who would ask me out, and it was ridiculous, just on the face of it. Our ages, for one. I didnít know him, he didnít know me, he was flirting, heavily, and I was unequipped. My mother had not prepared me for this when she gave directions to the commercial shed where I was to retrieve and return the linens. Do you have a boyfriend? he asked and being honest, I said no. Then why wonít you go out with me? I didnít know how to say no without making him think it was because he was black. He was black, yes, and a manual worker, yes, and he was older, and I was in town for only a few days, but mostly he was an obnoxious insistent stranger. He knew he had me, because he was black, and I was polite, and he knew he held the card, he knew I was thinking black/white and because I was thinking it he was thinking it or vice versa. And vice versa. It was the 1970s, and he or the two of them, if there were two, were not Emmett Till, life was not still like that, they knew I would not get a posse to pull him from bed and fit a tire necklace around him and drown him. Thank goodness. So they reveled in my discomfiture and the fact that the stakes were not high. I would not call out the dogs. I was bound by the fear of my own racism and was not yet schooled in pushing men away, those who were dangerous and those who were not. I was still schooled in smiling. If that is the legacy of Till in the New South, then was my experience all bad? My discomfiture as a Southern (off-) white woman was little enough of a sacrifice to, or a by-product of, their sense of freedom, the excesses of their freedom. And letís not forget the irony of our having had black women help prepare and serve the dinner which was set out upon the rented linens. Of course my parents were paying them well. Of course the women were glad to have the extra money. Of course we treated them well. But of course it was hard not to think of them as we read and talked and sang about slavery and freedom, the way their ancestors must have thought of our biblical ancestors as they sang, Go down Moses, way down in Egyptís land ...

Sandi L. Wisenberg is the author of Holocaust Girls: History, Memory and Other Obsessions (University of Nebraska Press, 2002).

Next Essay

photo by Dinty W. Moore