There is a blog out there in the digital landscape where race is discussed openly. Names are called, fingers are pointed, and oft times naughty words are written. Sounds like my kind of place, except for the naughty words of course.
One should know that this is not the normal race baiting sort of forum. It is not the land of David Duke or even Farrakhan, but a place where things are looked at logically, pragmatically, frankly, and sometimes surprisingly fairly. What sets this place apart is that punches are never pulled, no matter who is getting punched. White, black, cops, lawyers, accused, and acquitted, all may find themselves targeted if the author deems it justified. This brings us to the author.
Any writer who will entertain my inserting Bob Marley quotes where they don’t belong merits my affection and this blogger not only allowed but occasionally encouraged them. Interesting. Through repeated reading I realized this blogger was local to myself, or possibly the other way around, so I decided to pull back the curtain and see who was running the machine.
I embarked on this fact finding venture unsure of what I might find, or rather, how my inquiries would be received. I, a devoutly religious white man raised in the heart of Republicanism, was arranging to sit down with a man who titles his blog in homage to a Malcolm X quote, and regularly rants against religion itself in his writings. This could go very badly… if I were meeting with someone else. I found the “Field Negro” to be decidedly friendly.
We met at Moriarty’s, an Irish Pub downtown, for lunch. He chose the place, possibly as a nod to my pastiness, but more likely due to proximity to his place of employ. You see, Wayne Bennett is not a professional blogger, he is a lawyer. He works for the Family Division of Philadelphia’s First Judicial District, “Support Master” being his official title. To the uninitiated this is pretty much a family court judge. He has the pleasure of listening to cases of child support, custody, and any other sort of domestic disagreement that progresses to litigation. How fun. He explained all this to me while waiting for the waitress to bring him his salad. I had some sort of meat sandwich that was decidedly less healthy. Our meal was not large, nor hard to eat, yet the time it took us to finish lunch was impressive. I would say how long but I would hate to cast doubt on Mr. Bennett’s dedication to the people of Philadelphia.
He, like I, is not a native of this fine city. He was raised in a respected Jamaican family where the likes of Mr. Marley were not simply listened to, but met; hence his allowing my itations to be entertained. He left the island to attend the University of Alabama on a track scholarship. Upon graduation he took a good job in California and began to enjoy life. As can often be the case when one is enjoying themselves, family stepped in to shake things up. Mr. Bennett’s uncle, a barrister, thought his nephew should be more like himself, and told him to attend law school. Which he did, at LSU. (I am thinking of convincing Bennett to attend my alma matter so we can get a national football championship, they seem to follow him.) Graduation, a job fair in Atlanta, and a phone call from a politician, landed Wayne Bennett in Philadelphia. Now we knew each other, our meals had arrived and been half eaten, and then we began to talk.
I was not present at Obama’s beer summit with Professor Gates and Officer Crowley, but I have no doubt it was not as productive as was ours at the pub. The two of us, assumed to be polar opposites, both love this city. He loves that it is close to both NYC and DC, has a small town feel in a big city, and that he can visit a neighborhood and know he will find black people, white people, Italians or Poles.
I like that I can eat somewhere other than Applebee’s.
I tend to talk too much.
When I asked him to tell me the one best reggae song ever, he gave me a list of eight.
His wife does not read his blog; neither does mine.
We were into some ground breaking stuff here. Lunches like ours are not completely unheard of, but lunches with those of our respective demographics do not discuss the topic I brought up next. I asked him why he blogs about race.
“People are dishonest about race. I wanted to have the real conversation,” was his answer. He believes that thanks to the computer, and people’s propensity to hide behind them, individuals finally feel they can speak freely. He has created a forum where they do.
He sees the black community as running in place. “Things are surely not as bad as they were 20 years ago, but we aren’t going anywhere. It’s the same old, same old.” I expressed a more dour view. I asked him why it seemed so many young black men were falling behind in Philadelphia. In his animated way he told me a story along these lines:
“When I first started hearing cases I would get all these divorced families where Mom works some fast food job, dad works construction, and they spend thousands of dollars a month to send their kids to private school (I knew exactly of what he spoke as he described perfectly my whole neighborhood). The Dad would consistently be unable to keep up the child support payments and hence find himself standing before the bench. I used to think all these folks were sending their kids to private catholic schools to keep them away from black people (which knowing these people would not surprise me). But when I started to look more into it I saw how bad the schools were and realized that maybe this wasn’t racism but that these folks simply cared about their child’s education. Racism wasn’t the issue; it was that we need to do something about these schools.”
He contrasted this with how many limos he sees at high school graduations. “Since when was graduating from high school such a big deal? You haven’t done anything yet? Why is the bar so low?”
I asked him if race still matters. He said, “of course, but its class too. Hey, even rich black people hate poor black people.”
We talked well past the check. I was sitting at the table of a black man who blogs about racism as a way to unwind and relax from the work day, (what a way to relax, right?) and he made me feel completely comfortable. He was not angry; not even grumpy. In fact I rather liked the guy and he had the sort of demeanor that whether true or not, would make others think he liked them too.
He insisted on picking up the tab and we wrapped up lunch with the conversation feeling unfinished. Funny that as a reader of his blog, one might think the world of race relations spinning into a black hole, but having lunch with the author was the bright spot of my week.
There is hope for us yet.