Call it.

Those of you who know me know that I, by choice, have about three friends. I tend, recent events excluded, to keep to myself. After my divorce and move to Gulfport several years ago, I relished the quiet of my own apartment, content to spend nights writing on my couch or sitting in the dunes down on Passe-a-Grille.

When I first started work at The Gabber, I am told, my editor thought I was all business and quiet (please note the past tense) and our copy editor Shelly thought I might not be that bright because I never spoke. At our annual June Christmas party (no, that’s not a mistake), I would have a beer or two while the rest of the staff cavorted like college chums.

My mother, I am certain, is grateful that I have found a balance between eternal hermitude (I’m fairly certain that’s an actual word and, if not, it should be) and the party life. She used to call me and demand a recounting of people I had spoken to that day; these calls ended with her heartily encouraging me to get what she called “more two-legged interaction”. I think perhaps this week she may be wishing I could keep my mouth shut just a wee bit more, but generally she’s happy that I tend to get out a bit. Of course, part of that is an effort on my part because we writers often border precariously on the edge of a special type of insanity brought about by hours of Hemingway-like introspection. To save myself from going blind raving mad, I have gotten the odd part time job where I am allowed- nay, forced– to have contact with people. Generally this serves to remind me that most people are crazy, but it also allows me to hone a very rusty set of social skills.

Recently, though, most of my interactions have related to the by-now infamous racist article. When the dust settled, I found two people who have surprised me.

One: Shelly Wilson, the former copy editor who has forsaken correcting my grammar to return to school. Shelly and I got to be friends long ago, but we often come down on different sides of the proverbial fence when we discuss social issues and politics. I refer to her- with great affection- as a hippie tree-hugging liberal. Our conversations know no limits, and often times people who don’t understand our interactions simply sit, wide-eyed, and try to fade into whatever piece of furniture they happen to be sitting on. One night we sat in Hooks, arguing so vehemently about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans that the guy in the booth behind us, who early in the conversation abandoned all pretense of not eavesdropping, practically had his head in my wasabi and was laughing hysterically at us as we went round and round about the President, the actual role of FEMA, and what level the reponsibility the government actually has towards people who choose not to evacuate.

My point is simply this: we disagree. And, as you may imagine, the whole three part article has been a source for our conversations lately. Shelly and I (big shock) do not agree. But she’s intelligent and she understands why I wrote what I wrote. And today I woke up to find a blog post that makes me glad I can call her a friend. She has a more finely tuned capacity for critical thinking than I ever will; I highly suggest anyone who has any interest in the issue check out her post.

Two: Gail, who lives across the street from me. Gail is the neighbor who brings me crawfish dressing. We sit and talk on my front porch whenever life affords us a mutual hour or two off from work.

When Rodney Thrash started interviewing me for the Floridian article he’s writing (now slated for Tuesday), he wanted to talk to some of my neighbors. So he found himself at Gail’s front door. Gail knew I had written something but hadn’t seen the article. I watched him leave her house last Friday and, about 20 minutes later, steeled myself for the worst when she knocked on my door.

But that’s not what happened. I opened the door and Gail stood there. We looked at each other for a moment, and then she opened her arms and pulled me into a hug.

“Why,” she finally said, “didn’t you tell me you felt that way?”

“Because I don’t feel that way about you,” I answered her honestly. And I don’t. But, I told her, I believed she had every right to be angry at me.

“My heart breaks for you, but it doesn’t change how I feel about you,” she told me. And then we sat on my front porch for an hour or so and talked openly about how I felt, how she felt, and how she believed that more people needed to admit how they felt about race. It was her general opinion that people bury feelings like mine and, she pointed out, it doesn’t mean they don’t feel them. It simply means that they can never get past them if they can never admit them.

What I’m finding is that people who feel at all as I do aren’t fooling black people by not admitting the issues. What I’m hearing is that if you’re black, you face this sort of thing every day, regardless of whether you’re a poor black woman living on the south side or a wealthy black person living at the north end of Pinellas county.

Gail rents in my neighborhood, works at a nursing home, and mothers three almost-grown kids. She and her husband both work endless hours and share a car with their oldest son. Gail cuts their grass with a second-hand lawn mower.

Shelly lives in a Kenwood home that she and her girlfriend Maria own. Maria is an engineer; Shelly writes for The Gabber and goes to school full time. They have a gardener, a new Element, and a barely used sedan.

These are two women- one white, one black- who have two very different lives. Gail hails from New Orleans; Shelly grew up in Gulfport.

But they have one commonality- neither of them is stupid enough to pretend race doesn’t matter.

I would argue that Shelly sees a lot less overt racism than Gail does. Gail deals with it every day; Shelly can look at it from the outside. Yes, she’s a lesbian, but being gay in Gulfport and Kenwood isn’t quite the stigma it is in, say, Kentucky. And if Shelly faces discrimination, it’s not because of her race.

I suspect that Shelly isn’t a racist. In fact, a lot of our arguments revolve around the “race v. socio-economic” issue. But she notices race. Of course, that’s not acceptable in our society. We (white people) are taught “African American” is the way to identify black people. Of course, that all falls down sometimes. Like with Leroy, a friend of mine who lives in Belize. If you ask Leroy, he’ll tell you he’s Belizean. Or black. But he’s not African American. Or the girl I went to grad school with years ago. She was Algerian, which made her African. But she had the same skin tone as I do. Our professor was from South African. You know where this is going. Of course… she was blond. And pale.

But call people black? Nope, that’ll get you sent to a diversity class. Interesting note: at last Saturday’s meeting it was made painfully clear to me that the black people in the room had no issue calling black people black and white people white. Why, one woman asked me, can’t white people come to terms with it and do the same thing?

Because we’re taught that doing so is a form of racism or somehow insulting to black people (who, I guess, we’re supposed to believe wouldn’t know what color their skin was if we didn’t point it out to them). We’re taught that being black isn’t allowed to matter which, if you think about it, is a hell of an insult to someone who is black and overcomes all the bullshit to achieve on the same level as someone who doesn’t face the receiving end of racism every damn day.


Call it white man’s guilt. Call it ignorant. Call it a flimsy way to mask our own concerns and doubt. Call it whatever the hell you want.

But call it.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.