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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tongue-Tied in the Suburbs

When we decided to move to the Detroit Metropolitan Area, one of the most segregated communities in America, we chose a suburb with an excellent high school for our fourteen year old daughter, where her grandparents lived. But our friends were astonished. How could we, who had always fought for civil rights, move to suburb so racist that every house deed still forbade Blacks and Jews to live there?

“Maybe we can do some good,” I answered. “People might listen to us since we’re white like them.”

It wasn’t long before I was put to the test. One day after our tennis game we were talking over coffee in the Racquet Club lounge.

“I have to move out of Lathrup Village,” announced Betty angrily. “It’s changing —you know what I mean. And the housing values are going down.”

What I wanted to do was tell her she was ought to know better than to engage in white flight. But Betty had a temper. I couldn’t think of any other way to put it, so I kept quiet.

That silence haunted me for weeks. If I didn’t say anything, I was condoning Betty’s racism. But what could I have said?

I called a friend in Lathrup Village.

“Tell her,” said my friend, “that I have lived here for fifteen years and think that the diversity enhances the neighborhood. Also, the housing values have gone up 15% in the last two years.”

I didn’t want to get into a tiff with Betty. I have noticed that when people are angry, they stop thinking; the surge of emotion seems to blow a fuse in their brains.

I called another friend who gives workshops on racial healing.

“Yes, you should interrupt oppressive speech,” said Mary. “That’s what we call being a white ally. Here’s what you need to do. Know your facts. Be sure that you stick to ‘I’ statements. Don’t point your finger at Betty or get into blame by using ‘you’ phrases like ‘you shouldn’t say that.’”

That was a poser. I practiced a bit. “I,” “I,” Let’s see: "I would enjoy living in a more diverse community myself. And I have a friend in Lathrup Village whose property values have gone up recently.”

Eager to do the right thing, I went back to the tennis court, but Betty didn’t bring up moving. Instead, one day, someone mentioned affirmative action.

“My grandparents came from Poland,” said Betty in a petulant voice. “They worked hard and they made it. I don’t see why Black people can’t do what we did.”

“Facts,”I muttered frantically to myself; “’I’ statements, no ‘you’ statements, and no blaming.”

“I think many of those European immigrants planned their journeys in advance,” I said. “They saved up money for their passage, and had relatives in America to help them. It must have been much harder for African Americans who were kidnapped and enslaved, had no money or friends, and were deliberately separated from their language and tribal groups when they were sold.”

Betty seemed startled, but she didn’t argue. My other friends looked interested, not at all antagonistic. As for me, I felt elated. I had found a way to stand up for my moral values when racist or anti-Semitic or sexist remarks went flying around. I just needed to read up on some more facts, work on my temper, and practice making“I” remarks in front of my mirror until I could get a genuinely non-blaming expression onto my face.

Want to give it a go? Here are some scenarios. Can you think of what to say?

· You have just been to lunch in a hotel dining room with a white business acquaintance. As you walk back to your car, she realizes she has left her pocketbook at the table, by her chair. You go back to look, but it isn’t there. She declares:

“It would be right where I left it if they hadn’t hired so many black waitresses.”

· Your daughter likes to sit with African American students in her school cafeteria. Her friends say “We don’t see why you bother to hang out with Black students. They don’t want to be friends with us; why else would they always choose separate tables?”

  • You are at a cocktail party, standing in a group of five people. One of them is a very tall African American. A white man asks him what his sport was in college, and adds “I bet you played basketball.”

Send me some of your ideas and we can figure out what will work.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Road Trip!



I am not one of those senior citizens who dislikes winter and always wants to travel south to get away from it. My brain, which slows to molasses in heat and humidity, works much better in the cold. But this winter was different.   It snowed and snowed and when it wasn't snowing the sky loured drearily, so steadily overcast that all through February I only caught a glimpse of the blue sky once or twice. I felt walled in. I itched with cabin fever. When a friend asked two of us to fly down to Florida, spend four days at her condo, and then help her drive back to Michigan, I lept at the offer.
Along the way, I came up with some travel tips you might find helpful.

Flying South 
  • Those of you who are frequent and sophisticated flyers probably know this already, but I was astonished that my travel companion was able to book both our flight and our luggage  via Travelocity and to get our boarding passes and baggage checks printed out twenty four hours ahead of time. 
  • Does your airport have a terminal that is smaller than the main one? This shortens the security lines, since there are fewer people checking in, and there was no line at all where we checked our bags in outside. In Detroit, the North Terminal has much shorter lines than the main one. Too, it has a terrific bookstore and nice coffee shops near the boarding gates.

  • If you are seventy-five and older, you don’t have to take your shoes off!

  • Take a sandwich, since few airlines serve meals anymore (peanut butter and jelly doesn’t spoil in your handbag). Beverages will be served and that will give you something to have in your stomach during flight.

  •  Do chat with strangers — other people are full of interesting quirks.  Here’s a lady I talked to who was accompanied by a wide-eyed little dog whose round head protruded out of her personal wheeled suitcase like a ball of dandelion fluff. “Jasmine always travels with me,” said her owner, “ though it is terribly expensive to bring her along.”


The Road Trip

            After four lovely days of basking on the beach in the sun and walking along it when it got cooler, touring Naples, visiting friends and relatives and happily lolling around, we three set off for home. I'm an old dog, but I can learn new tricks. Here are some that I picked up along our way
  •  Take turns driving, as long as you hold up; if you don’t hold up,                don’t drive.  I did fine the first two days but, as it got colder and the heat in the car had to be turned up higher and higher it made me dizzy so asked my two friends to do the driving.
  • Don’t drive at night.  It isn’t just our vision that is compromised as we grow older; it’s our judgment. We still make perfectly good decisions; we just make them slower. Combined with not being able to see very well, that can be a lethal combination. One night we drove into the turn lane on the wrong side of the pitch dark roadway.

  • Pack old underwear.  One of my travel companions disclosed that, on trips that last a week or so, she packs her weary old underwear and discards it day by day, leaving room in her suitcase for souvenirs. Some friends who went to China carried this even further, leaving everything behind they weren't wearing on their backs!


  • Snoring. This was an acute problem from our first night together in the condo, where my roommate and I took turns sleeping on the sofa in the living room. I really don't like to travel alone these days but snoring (mine and theirs) has made me hesitant to travel with friends  as often as I would like. It is so humiliating to wake up in the morning to find that you’ve done something you don’t remember doing – all three of us did it though I suspect I was the worst offender.  So, we went out and purchased nose strips and all three wore them. These helped a bit, but we still kept each other awake. One night on the road, we got a suite  with a pull out bed in a room where you could close the door. That solved the issue for one of us. Alas, the best solution for snoring is separate rooms, worth the expense because you are not exhausted when you have to get up and drive the next day.

  • If the repair engine light goes on, find a dealership.  It might just have been one of us putting the gas cap back on the wrong way, but the dealership in Ocala, Florida found a serious problem with the fuel line, so we stopped over to get it fixed.  It took three hours, but imagine what it would have been like if we had ground to a halt as we drove through the Tennessee Mountains.

                                   Snow In The Mountains

  • Choose your motel during the day so you have your reservation assured for when you are all tired out from driving.   One of us had this handy-dandy guide to the interstate highway we were on all the way – Dave Hunter’s Along Interstate 7    (I think there’s one for route 95 as well — go to It has useful information like what radio stations can be found along the road, what county you are in should a tornado alert be broadcast, and the history of various locations alone the route. It shows the road going North and South on separate pages,  each with motels, gas stations and restaurants listed  along the way.  After lunch we did looked up motels we thought we would get to by sunset,  and make our reservation via cell phone.

  • Take an audible book along — preferably, a good long one.  We listened to a thoroughly engrossing novel which lasted all of the way home. Even then, three discs were left so  after we were all rested up we foregathered to tote up our bills and to hear how the story ended.

  • Go along with other people’s ideas.  I wouldn’t have thought to tour the local library but one book-loving friend always does this so we did too. One morning, when I was anxious to get off, my friends wanted to stop at an Artisan Workshop where we had an delightful browse. And who would have thought of choosing Ikea as a perfect place to have lunch?

Home at Last

       What do you know — the Florida sunshine, heart-warming companionship and the excitements of the road trip got my mind off of myself so thoroughly  that when, at last, I stumbled through the snow to my door, my cabin fever had been knocked right out of me.