Eavesdropping on Middle America
In the safety and comfort of Middle America taverns, average men speak their mind about the ongoing rupture of racial tension in the US. Justin Glawe reflects on the deepening sense of discomfort, anger, and racism he witnessed while drinking beer.
The wide receiver caught the pass and stretched for an extra six yards.
“That’s a man who knows how far he has to go,” said the guy next to me, praising the football player on TV with a knowing smile.
“That’s the monkey in him,” the bartender replied, not ironically, not even really in a joking fashion. Dead serious. You see, the elite athlete skillfully doing his multi-million dollar job who we were watching while drinking beer is a black man. Get it?
That this exchange happened in a bar in Antioch, Ill. does not make it rare, I don’t think. For weeks I’ve been absorbing this abhorrent language, offered in person and online for anyone with the stomach for it. Most recently, I have heard these sinful whispers and shameful grievances aired in the safety and comfort of a few Antioch taverns, far outside earshot of anyone who might put up a fight.
“You’re safe here,” another patron rattled off that night.
“Here” isn’t just that bar – it can be anywhere if you know where to look, or if you have the ability to sit at a neighborhood dive and keep to yourself, something that’s a hell of a lot easier to do when your skin is white and your look unassuming.
Conversations like the one I heard in Antioch have been going on for months and years, but they become more malicious in times of great racial strife. Like now, when the country is reeling after the deaths of two New York City police officers, which happened after months of protests, following a summer of death.
“For all I know, I would have hit traffic from a bunch of them out there saying ‘I can’t breathe,’” one man said last week at another bar, mirroring the perceived injustices aired on social media as demonstrators protesting the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others sought to disrupt the flow of life, often by creating gridlock.