Friday, November 14, 2014

Might as well say you hate Santa Claus and Unicorns while you're at it.

I was recently reminded of one of the odder events that happened to me while I lived in Iowa between 1998 and 2000.

  • Raymond Bradley Completely true, completely funny/sad story - I moved to Iowa from Maryland back in 1998, and it is a very white state - only about 4% of the population is a minority of any type - black, Asian, native, etc... - but there are sizeable black neighborhoods in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Ft. Dodge...the cities and decent-sized towns, basically. Not so much in the small towns, though. My job involved marketing internet services through the state, so I went to lots of small towns. I would not call most the small-town folk "racist" as much as I'd say "not terribly worldly." However, I went to this one western town's community meeting to talk about internet, and met a citizen that was asking me about parental filters and porn-blocking software - pretty common requests. He seemed decent enough until he asked me where I was from. I said Annapolis, Maryland, and he was genuinely interested in why I moved to Iowa. He mentioned that his family was going on a trip to DC that summer. He asked me where I was living in the state, and I said Des Moines. He goes "oh, I never go to Des Moines!" emphatically. Des Moines is a pretty normal city, by any measure, so I asked why. He said - surrounded by his neighbors - without a hint of irony or sarcasm - "too many n****** there!" which is a complaint you don't hear much about Des Moines. Boring? Sure. Poorly managed? Ok. Flood prone? Occasionally, but "too many NOT A NICE WORD USED BY RACISTS AND RAPPERS" is not one of them.

    If you do the math, figuring that less than 4% of the state's population was "minority" and then subtract the native American population, the Mexicans and Asians, you're basically looking at 35,000 or so black people in a state of 3+ million people in an area a bit bigger than Pennsylvania. Figure a few thousand in Ft. Dodge, and almost ten thousand in Cedar Rapids, and another couple of thousand spread elsewhere, that leaves about 20,000 black people in Des Moines, out of 250,000. In other words, about the average population percentage.

    Now, I had not really heard that word much since I moved out to the Midwest outside of some comedy CDs, so it took me a second to process what he had said. There were hundreds of things he could have said that were more logical - confusing roads, too much traffic compared to these small towns, higher cost of living, not enough bowling alleys - and I would have understood his complaint. Des Moines has black people, but Atlanta, it ain't. So, I said "really? I hadn't noticed."

    He repeated what he'd just said. He wasn't joking.

    Figuring I had possibly met a member of the KKK - remember, they don't like Catholics either - I figured he was testing me, seeing where I lay on the Hatred Scale. I said "well, there's none in MY neighborhood!" which, given that there are more black people at Caps' games than in Iowa, wasn't much of a shocking statement, but he was satisfied with my answer, and he moved on to eat a ham and butter sandwich.
    As the evening was winding down, and I knew I had a clear path to my car, I said to him "when you get to DC, it can be a tough place. Make sure you stay in Prince George's County, you'll be safe there." He goes "Thanks for the tip!" and I drove back to Des Moines checking my rear view mirror the whole time in case he Googled PG County's demographics.
  • Raymond Bradley I also threw in a "you'll LOVE Baltimore!" in there for good measure.

No comments: