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Why Not Discuss?

2009.February.5

It was going to be hard to top Inauguration Day, so Wednesday had us playing tourist. It was my first trip to Atlanta.

Ostensibly, this trip was about research as much as seeing sights, but I was shy more than once about approaching strangers for their insights on race and class. A peculiar incident on this day was a conversation with the owner and a regular patron at a gentrification coffee shop. The owner was a middle-aged White man, the patron a Black man in his late twenties or early thirties, and the two had already been talking about insurance or something-or-other. The older man invited his friend to dinner; he began talking to us as the younger man gathered his belongings. After a few pleasantries, I told them I was doing research for a book on race and class (I was not more specific, though I my topic is actually much more focused). They laughed and wished me good luck. They recommended checking out some other places in Georgia, which I jotted down, but the conversation waned quickly and they left. I’m sure either of them would have been able to offer some interesting perspective, but I held back the particulars that might have grabbed their attention and proven I wasn’t some clueless, over-reaching young fool (well at least not completely).

I had to ask myself afterward why I had held back. Was I reluctant to engage the (presumably middle-class) latte culture before I had really talked to anyone from the working class, which is the actual focus of my book? Did I feel vulnerable because they already knew each other, or because race is always easier to talk about one-on-one? Was I unwilling to betray my background, for fear it would affect our discussion, or that I would subliminally let slip the crass notes I had been making about this very shop the night before? Or was I just settled into my tourist and cuddling mode and not willing to get out of it for people who obviously weren’t going to be around for long?

Yes, I think so.

Sights: World of Coca-Cola (yes, I know they’re an evil corporation but I’m a soda aficionado), the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site, and oh, technically we drove through Centennial Olympic Park.

Topics: “simulation mode” at spectator factories, the creepy extended version of “The Happiness Factory“, corporate indoctrination, potential subversion by advertising agencies, Pemberton/Candler/Woodruff, charging 5 cents for 50 years, omitted chemicals, bottling for GIs, New Coke, aluminum bottles, sampling everything (including Beverly), the absence of real Pibb, lack of water fountains around the sample room, corporate credit unions, the future Center for Civil and Human Rights, real estate around tourist attractions, the King Center’s two bookstores, respect, frozen fountains, reaching out to educate kids, entropy, Wormsloe Plantation, homeschooling, panhandling

Soundtrack: U2, Sinead O’Connor, Johnny Cash, Kimya Dawson

That night, we drove into our eastern-most destination: Savannah.

[ETA some topics]

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2 comments

  1. Another place you might want to go for research is lower-income public schools. Having worked in predominantly-white, upper-middle-class schools and now being in a low-SES, predominantly-minority school, the attitude toward race is completely different (it was a little shocking to me, someone who’s spent her life mostly in predominantly-white, upper-middle-class settings).

    I don’t know what the focus of your book is, but you might want to consider subbing in some of these schools (it won’t be hard to get a job in FWISD, I can assure you, and I’m sure DISD won’t be tough either).


    • Thanks for the suggestion. Actually, my interest in this topic began from my personal experiences on the front lines (as a student) and I have a close friend from high school (and now teacher) who is helping me with the inside track. ;) Trust me, this book would be pointless without bringing up urban public schools.



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