Part 2. Another racist I knew: “Phil.

Another man, another involvement, another pseudonym. “Phil.”

Phil was not like John. He was upper middle class Jewish, grew up in an all-white New York borough. His college and graduate school education were not in big cities.

Although he worked in a city, he’d travel from his all-white suburb into the city by car. And after work, he’d travel back to his all-white suburb by car.

Eventually Phil moved to Washington, DC. He lived in a luxury high rise apartment complex in the remote reaches of Alexandria, VA — remote, in the sense that the complex was surrounded by trees and bushes, without any access to public transportation. In order to get around or shop, residents would have to act like suburbanites: they’d get into their cars and drive. In fact, they were suburbanites.

Every day, Phil would drive into the District for work, and every day he’d drive back to his complex.

Did I mention the armed guard at the gate of the complex? Oh, yes, an armed off-duty police officer sat in a small guard house, and checked people in. There was a wooden bar across the access, sort of like a border control structure, which the guard would lift only to people who showed ID, who proved they belonged.

To be fair, the complex was not entirely all-white in its residency. DC is a transient government town with many working embassy people from countries all over the world. Some of them were people of color. Some of those people, although not many, lived in the complex. I knew this because I’d see them around the huge swimming pool in the summer, but this was not a particularly convivial residential situation so nobody got friendly with anybody else.

I asked Phil why the complex needed an armed guard. What was he guarding against? Phil said something about, you know, well, people who didn’t live in the complex or weren’t guests. Or something. I said, “You’re afraid Black hordes from the District will rise up and come over here and invade.” Which, even in such a paranoid racist terror scenario, would have been pretty impossible since you couldn’t get to the complex via any sort of reasonable transport. Never mind why the hell any “horde” of any color would wish to invade the premises.

Paranoia of this kind is sheer grandiosity. People who hold such fears believe they are so important, Hostile Forces want to attack them.

One day, Phil and I were driving around DC. We stopped at a light in a minority neighborhood. Phil glanced over at four Black men, each in his 40s or 50s, who were hanging out at the corner, talking and laughing.

“Drug dealers,” Phil hissed. I told him he was a racist.

Phil was, like most racists, also ignorant: guys at that age, hanging out, are not drug dealers. Moreover, Phil obviously didn’t have the social instincts to perceive a group of people as convivial, not menacing. Phil was scared of Black faces, scared of Black people.

Phil didn’t like being called a racist. His response was he’d worked on the 1964 Civil Rights Act! How could anyone who worked on the Civil Rights Act be a racist? I don’t think I bothered to respond.

Phil once attempted to trash Martin Luther King, Jr. to me by claiming the FBI “knew things” about him. I slammed that one down, too, with contempt. He believed knowing “things” about a colossal person should knock that person out of my consideration as a hero and genius. It didn’t work.

Phil did have a sort of relationship with Black people. He was a football fan.


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