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With all this talk of racism in the gentrifying parts of town, I thought I’d share this anecdote.
On Tuesday, I interviewed a middle-aged black man in Columbia Heights. He was angry about construction that had encroached on his mother’s land, and I mention his race because it is relevant. This man expressed racial attitudes that were in step with the policies of a certain Western country between 1933 and 1945.
As we stood in his backyard and looked at the construction, he intimated that the Jews wanted to take his mother’s house. Of one of the persons involved, he said: “She’s a member of B’nai B’rith. You got me, man? You got me? Yeah. Member of B’nai B’rith.”
I took his story with more than a spoonful of salt. But just because I’m a careful reporter, I checked with a Jewish friend to see if she and her acquaintances were hatching such a plot. “I haven’t heard any plans like that,” she said. She did assure me, though, that the Jewish Conspiracy to Take Over the World was still holding regular meetings. “We’re about to have a press conference,” she said.
My friend is from the North, so she’s quick to spot racism. Since I’m from East Texas, it takes me a while to notice, even when racism is leering down at me in form of a loud man with booze on his breath. I grew up with this stuff: Confederate flags as makeshift curtains, prolific use of the N-word by white men, a Bible-class teacher who said whites and blacks shouldn’t mix. (“It’s bad for the children,” he told me when I was 10 or 11.) In coming to D.C., however, I thought that urban blacks might be less racist than the whites down South. After all, the grandfathers of those Klansmen who marched in my town never had to get hosed or go to jail for their rights.
Back in Columbia Heights, I was hoping that the angry man’s 80-year-old mother would offer me some faith in people. Not a chance. She said, with a hiss, that white people were the root of her troubles. One of her neighbors, who was white, made a nervous joke over the fence. She let loose on him: “You come out way after I was here! I been here since 1953! You come down here ’bout four years ago!”
I wish the story ended there, but it doesn’t. As I was walking away, the man offered to bribe me. “You do this story. I take care of you,” he said. “I get you paid.”