The “Atmosphere.”

The Friday after we solidly re-elected our first black president, I was staking out a Chuck-E-Cheese.

I was there — against my better judgment, I swear — trying to find out if it didn’t have too many black people.

There, I said it. If you really want to hate me, you can stop reading right now. I’ve just given you a wonderful gift, haven’t I? ‘Tis the season, and I’m feeling generous.

Still here? Oh good. Here’s the story.

At the beginning of the month, Older Relative (not his real name) had a talk with my husband Scott and my mother-in-law about the upcoming birthday party of Younger Relative (also not his real name). Younger Relative’s birthday falls right before Thanksgiving — it’s today, in fact. Relatives Older and Younger are one generation up and down from us, respectively, and Younger Relative’s Parents are about the same age that we are.

I wasn’t there for the conversation, but apparently Younger Relative’s Parents wanted Younger Relative to go to a Chuck-E-Cheese for his birthday. They’re not from around here, they’re just up for the week, and they didn’t know where to find one.

“There’s one in Annapolis,” said Older Relative.

“That’s pretty far,” said Scott. He checked on his phone. “There’s one in Largo. That’ll be closest to our house.”

“We’ll go to the one in Annapolis,” said Older Relative. Firmly.

“Why’s that?” asked Scott.

“The atmosphere,” said Older Relative.

Scott gave his mother an interrogatory look. And she shrugged, as if to say: “I’m not touching this one.”

“What do you mean?” asked Scott.

“You know. The… atmosphere.”

For those of you who don’t know, we live in zip code 20721, not far from Largo Town Center on the DC metro. It’s an affluent, well-educated suburb that is also majority black.

We didn’t move here to colonize, or to make a statement, or really with any racially conscious motive at all. We moved here because it’s convenient to our work, has nice houses and schools, and bears all the other kid-friendly charms of modern American suburbia: bike trails, sidewalks, parks, barbecues, cul-de-sacs, that kind of thing.

As gay white guys, we’re misfits, demographically speaking. But we like it here, we get along just fine with our neighbors, and we’re entirely unfazed about being the only white folks in line at Wegmans. Which we often are. And if it happens that the Daughter reaches high school and she’s not dating black guys — or girls, or both — then we’re going to sit her down and have a good long Talk.

Anyway. Older Relative continued: “I just want you to check it out and get back to me.” (He hadn’t been to it himself, Scott learned.)

Bless his heart, Scott delegated. “It’s on the way home from your work,” he said. And that’s entirely true.

“It’s fucking racist, that’s what it is,” I replied. Also entirely true.

“I’m not going to humor him. I’m not going to do it.” This, however, turned out to be false.

Now, Older Relative has a history with these things. He and I once got into such a heated argument over immigration that I nearly threw him out of my house. Despite all appearances, this is fairly unusual. As impassioned as I sometimes am in this space, real-life policy arguments are never personal for me. They’re work, and it’s just not worth all the heat, all the time, to take that kind of stuff personally. But I’ll tell you, the things Older Relative said about those people… We just don’t talk about politics anymore. Ever. We can’t.

And here he was, making a request that might actually have been reasonable — if it weren’t so easily decoded, and if the decoded message weren’t so obnoxious.

But still, on that Friday evening I was lurking around the entrance to a Chuck-E-Cheese for the very first time since a friend’s birthday party back when I was six years old. And I hate myself for this.

I noted the atmosphere. It was well-lit and smoke-free. Both significant improvements over the Chuck-E-Cheese I remember. There were arcade games all over, and piles and piles of greasy pizza. (Mental note: Eat before going.) And of course, I couldn’t help but notice that I was the only white person in the establishment.

We told Older Relative that the “atmosphere” of the Largo Chuck-E-Cheese was just fine. We liked it. Looks great, we said. And we wouldn’t think twice about taking the Daughter there, or anyone else’s kid for that matter. Except maybe for the food.

“We’re going to Annapolis,” he answered.

“How about I check that one out too,” Scott proposed. “Just to be sure.” Older Relative agreed.

Scott went. He investigated a little more thoroughly than I did. He even talked to the manager. A black guy.

Younger Relative’s Parents ultimately made the choice. They’re staying with Older Relative this week, and it turns out that the Annapolis Chuck-E-Cheese is just a smidgen closer to Older Relative’s house. So that’s where we’re going.

Either way, I’m pretty sure we failed here. I mean, speaking for myself, I knew damn well what was going on. We all did, of course. But I didn’t confront Older Relative about it. Not directly.

Sure, I made him wait, and I made him squirm, and I made certain he knew that I didn’t approve. But the chain of tacit understanding held. I sustained it when I ought to have broken it. Now I’m just hoping that there are a lot of black kids at the Chuck-E-Cheese in Annapolis tonight. It would serve Older Relative right. And while I may not deserve it, I’m hoping for a second chance.

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174 thoughts on “The “Atmosphere.”

  1. “The Friday after we solidly re-elected our first black president, I was staking out a Chuck-E-Cheese.

    I was there — against my better judgment, I swear — trying to find out if it didn’t have too many black people.”

    I know that it was the second sentence that is supposed to have shock value, but it’a actually the first that comes off creepy if you’re inclined to read it uncharitably.

    Seriously, though, this is just a great post – a story told very, very well.

  2. This is something I think we all deal with in our personal lives, especially, and for some people exclusively, with older relatives.

    There seems always to be two responses: not let it go, or let it go.

    For as much as I like to argue, both online and in my real life, about all manner of things, like really, all kinds of dumb stupid shit as well as important stuff, I don’t like to do so 1.) with people I don’t know well, or 2.) when it will somehow become something that gets taken personally whoever.

    As sad and maybe mean as it sounds, I don’t see the point in fighting to change fundamental prejudcies when they belong to will not be around much longer.

  3. Oh relatives. I had a great Aunt who swore up and down that her neighbors were stealing her potted plants. Why? Because they were Methodists. To this day I don’t know why she thought the Methodists would want her potted plants.
      • Oddly Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys are rarely found in a Chuck E Cheese. Even when Pommes Frites (excuse me ‘Freedom Fries’) are On Special.

        Perhaps because they Hate Us for Our Freedom to eat cardboard pizza. Or have a thing about Giant Rats.

        quelle fromage!!!

    • Murali – Google “chuck e cheese violence”. It’s a common trope.

      Now, I don’t know whether “brawls at Chuck E Cheese” is a bogus “trend” to begin with (I think it’s at least possible that it is a high-tension environment, due to the presence of stressed and overprotective parents who have been served beer and are being exposed to screaming, loud noises and flashing lights) but somehow it’s gotten linked in the popular mind to ‘blacks’ – that is, the feeling amongst some whites, is that Chuck E Cheese’s used to be safe places to take your kids; but now there are more fights there, due to the increase in black patronage.

      NOTE: I have no idea whether any of the preceding (increased violence, increased black or poor patronage at CEC, and any correlations that may or may not exist between them) is true or not.

      • Jason, google it. There have been a rash of news pieces in the last few years with LEO’s complaining that CEC’s have more than the average number of fights (you’ll see many). I have heard people linking this to increased black patronage.

        I thought Murali was asking “why are they nervous about CEC”?

      • I’ve been Googling.

        That’s some serious racism. It’s the black people, of course, who are closer to their wild animal instincts, and who desecrate all that’s good and holy and innocent and cheesy about America.

      • Actually, this came up here not so very long ago when we were arguing about racism with some short-term visitors to the site. One of them said something like, “The media won’t tell you the truth about the blacks! If you feel so safe around them, take your kids to a Chuck E. Cheese and see what happens!” Or something like that. I thought it was one of the funniest things I’d ever read here.
      • I remembered it once you mentioned it.

        Like many completely crazy things that I’ve read, it had slipped my mind entirely.

        Anyway, the Chuck-E-Cheese tonight was racially mixed, peaceful, and sadly beer-free. But two out of three ain’t bad.

      • It seems to have the trappings of a moral panic as I tend to think of them: There’s an easily identified locus, with children, race, and the whole purity/danger dynamic coming into play. There’s also very little hard data but lots of rumor and anecdote (and yes, a YouTube video is an anecdote, even if video evidence doesn’t lie, because it’s clearly not representative of the sample at hand).

        What’s lousy is that Chuck E Cheese is, you know, a business. With people’s jobs and stuff at stake. And I bet business has been lousy because the right-wing customers are all too scared to go now.

      • And I bet business has been lousy because the right-wing customers are all too scared to go now.

        I’d hope the percentage of people that gullible is low, but I’d fear that you’re right.

      • Well, it was on Nightline too. It’s kind of an actual story.

        Does “an actual story” equal “probably true”?

        I remember back in the ’80s when satan worshipping orgies at child care centers all across the land were “an actual story.”

      • Oh, I’m not going to litigate this one. Believe what you want. The point is that the source was national TV [ABC] and a national newspaper [WSJ], and the incidents were real, not just idle hearsay.
      • “the incidents were real, not just idle hearsay.”

        A man got shot during church. So was a woman, at another church at another time. The incidents are real, not just idle hearsay.

        What do those news reports tell us about the risks of going to church?

      • This seems unlikely to go anywhere productive. A great number of people, Tom included, think everything is different when different people do it.
      • You’re right about this going nowhere. As the company said in its defense, 99.99% of visits to the Pizza Rat end without incident. But to deny there was a spate of incidents [one involving 80 people] is just too PC.
      • The objection, as I see it, is not to the fact that incisents happened; it’s how folks are generalizing. I’m bothered with how much quicker folks are to generalize when it is about “the other.” Of course, this is in part because folks who are generalizing tend to have limited other knowledge about those unlike them.
      • Yes, I get it, Kazzy. But becoming oversensitized to risk is a human thing: a minimal risk is still worse than none atall. Am I saying Jason’s relatives were justified in their trepidation? Not if you look at the actual risk, which approaches zero. But could this non-incident be comparable to how a black person feels when he sees the Confederate battle flag in a bar?

        I don’t think that’s unfair. If I’m black and I see the rebel flag, all things being equal I’d rather be somewheres else. It’s not something you meditate about, it’s just a human thing.

      • But you’re conflating entirely different things. You can’t pretend otherwise. Generalizing a few oublicized incidents of black violence at CEC is wrong; there is no objective evidence that blacks, CECs, or blacks at CECs present any actual risk based on a handful of YouTube videos. If you think this is the same as the risk posed to black folks by a bar with the stars-and-bars, I stand by my earlier comment that you struggle to grasp the proper perspective.

        I can show evidence of violence at just about any establishment by any type of person, as James did with churches. But folks want to focus on blacks at CECs as if it is unique. It’s not. Not in the way folks are saying it is.

        And here we are… Going no where. As predicted.

        Happy Thanksgiving, all.

      • Here on Planet Earth, I’m sure there were plenty of black parents who said screw that, we’re going to Shakey’s.

        And it was more than a few scattered or apocryphal incidents, it was dozens, not hard to find on Google. That’s probably what led me to speak up and dare to touch the third rail here. I’m not defending Jason’s relatives’ thoughtcrime, just saying that it wasn’t completely unfounded.

      • Show me dozens. Then I’ll show dozens of examples of violence at church.

        Also, the “black people so it, too” approach is getting really old.

      • Look it up yrself, por favor, if you don’t believe it. There’s no percentage in litigating this. It is what it is.

        And that “any reasonable person white or black might think this” is better than alleging racism for every stray thought and might clear the floor to consider genuine instances of racism.

      • I did some Googling and it does seem to be a real thing. Some Chuck E Cheese’s have a serious violence problem, based on the number of times the police have been called to address disturbances there. If that concerns you, the sensible precautions are to:

        1. See if any of the nearby locations have had police calls recently.
        2. Choose one that doesn’t serve alcohol (all the problem sites do)

        Using the racial makeup of the neighborhood it’s located in as a proxy for danger isn’t a precaution, it’s just expressing a preconceived belief.

      • The problem here, Tom, is that you are railing against political correctness, or the perception therein. But there was nothing politically correct about Jason’s response. It was simply correct. His older relative didn’t want to be in a place with a “bad atmosphere” and he defined “bad atmosphere” as “predominantly populated by black folk”.

        If he had said, “Hey, I heard Chuck E. Cheese’s can be dangerous,” or “Has there been any violence there?” or “Is it in a safe neighborhood?” I’m sure Jason would have responded differently. But he didn’t do any of those things. He did something blatantly racist. Just because folks might have legitimate reasons to avoid CEC doesn’t mean all reasons to avoid it are legitimate.

        If you want to rail against political correctness, go for it. But you’re not going to get a lot of traction in most circles, especially in an instance that is pretty obviously not about political correctness.

        As for Googling it myself, sorry, but no. Do you own damn homework. Make your own damn case.

      • “But to deny there was a spate of incidents [one involving 80 people] is just too PC.”

        Your words; not mine.

        No one denied that there might have been violence at CECs. At most, folks acknowledged a complete lack of knowledge of the incidents. What people objected to was the way in which a few isolated incidents were being used as after-the-fact justification for racism.

      • a minimal risk is still worse than none atall.

        And yet I suspect that won’t stop you from going to church this Sunday. (And that, of course, is the right decision.)

      • Hah- the WSJ piece says sort of what I do:

        Fights among guests are an issue for all restaurants, but security experts say they pose a particular problem for Chuck E. Cheese’s, since it is designed to be a haven for children. Law-enforcement officials say alcohol, loud noise, thick crowds and the high emotions of children’s birthday parties make the restaurants more prone to disputes than other family entertainment venues.

        The environment also brings out what security experts call the “mama-bear instinct.” A Chuck E. Cheese’s can take on some of the dynamics of the animal kingdom, where beasts rush to protect their young when they sense a threat.

        Stepping in when a parent perceives that a child is being threatened “is part of protective parenting,” says Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association. “It is part of the species — all species, in fact — in the animal kingdom,” he says. “We do it all of the time.”

      • I really had no idea that this was a thing. Honestly.

        I still think it sounds like a racist thing. But wow.

      • Well, that’s sort of the thing. It might well be that Chuck E. Cheese has more violence than your typical restaurant and/or the violence poses a bigger risk because of the presence of children. But it is interesting that it becomes an issue, a meme, a trope, when black folks are at the heart of the violence.

        To me, alcohol and children combining in a public establishment seems like less than a good idea.

      • Every damn day.

        I should clarify.

        I don’t think Chili’s having a bar and a kiddie menu is a problem.

        I think Chuck E. Cheese serving booze is a problem.

        If you want to drink during your kid’s birthday party, have it in your backyard, where you have much tighter control over the people you will be interacting with.

        And, for the record, I’m not necessarily advocating for legislation prohibiting an establishment like Chuck E. Cheese from serving alcohol, though I think a case can be made that such a situation is one that could justify that sort of government intervention.

      • I think kids shouldn’t be allowed in places where people stand and drink.

        Sitting and drinking a glass or two at your own table in a restaurant is fine for kids.

        Having kids mill around in any sort of bar or nightclub is wrong. This seemed to be the rule where I grew up. Kids could be near alcohol at restaurants, but pretty much nowhere else with booze (except people’s houses.)

        I don’t think we need a law enforcing this, but it is common sense.

        I would never take a kid there if they served booze.

      • There is a bar/restaurant near me that stands out in my mind on a number of levels.

        First, it is a bar with a massive parking lot. That just seems odd, primarily on account of having grown up in urban areas where you typically walked or took public transportation to bars. A handful of folks drove (either as designated drivers or drunk drivers) but not enough to justify a parking lot, especially in densely populated areas with high property values.

        Second, it has a variety of rooms with a variety of vibes, which is cool on one hand but confusing on the other. At the front exterior bar, you have the biker crowd, the OC chopper guys who frequented the place back when it was a real hole in the wall. At the front interior bar, you have your typical bar patrons; a sports guy vibe. Going back from there, you have a semi-fine dining area with a small bar that serves as a dinner room but also where live bands play on weekends. Behind that is the back bar, similar to the front bar but with more tables. Off of that is the back patio, with tables and chairs and a massive sand play area for children.

        Some rooms scream, “This is a family establishment where the kids can play while grownups enjoy a decent meal and a drink.” Others scream, “Time to party!” Still others scream, “Watch who you bump into.” And while the rooms are partitioned off from one another, people flow freely between then, including all sharing the same bathroom (one for men, one for women).

        So, yea, I could see things getting a bit hairy. Or a fight at the front bar swooping up a family leaving the dining area through the front entrance. I don’t see harm in bringing your kids there during the day, as it is much more “restauranty” then, but I’ve seen young kids there as late as 9 or 10 o’clock at night. Very strange.

        I guess that’s just country livin’.

      • There are almost certainly government-mandated minimum parking requirements that all businesses opening in the area have to meet.
      • Really? In the town I grew up on, most stores were lined up right along the street. Some bigger ones (mostly super markets) had their own parking lots but otherwise, folks used street parking or public lots. We called ourselves a “suburb” because we were in NJ and we were not Manhattan, but we were much more akin to downtown Bethesda or Silver Spring, places I’m sure your familiar with. We didn’t have the county run parking facilities like those centers did, though.

        Where I live now, come to think of it, damn near every store has a parking lot of some kind. But the bar’s is massive. It is also one of the few decent bars in a pretty widespread area so a number of patrons are traveling decent distances to get there, hopefully with a DD amongst them.

      • I’ve seen young kids there as late as 9 or 10 o’clock at night. Very strange.

        In Spain it is common for people to take their kids out to dinner around 10 in the evening and I think the place is better for it. Adults and children learn how to behave around each other in a broader variety of settings, which seems to improve the behaviour of both. An another plus is that children grow up knowing what it is like in a bar and don’t end up as teenagers seeing drinking as this daring adult thing that they must do as much as possible to impress each other.

      • The Chuck E Cheese near us must be a complete outlier (not that I’ve been there for over ten years now.) The pizza was entirely acceptable, it didn’t serve alcohol, and the only disturbances I recall were that some of the kids got really whiny when they ran out of quarters. But it was definitely the lazy Dad’s way to spend a weekend afternoon: feed the little ones pizza, keep giving them fistfuls of quarters, and remember to bring a book.
      • I don’t even remember whether there was beer at the Largo one, but I’m hoping there will be at Annapolis.
      • Ballparks all sell been (it’s a huge profit center), but they’ve learned how to minimize alcohol-related incidents:

        * It’s not sold in the stands. You have to get up and walk over to a booth where it’s served.
        * Limits on how many you can buy at once.
        * No beer sold after (say) the seventh inning
        * Aggressive security to break up fights before they can escalate

        These don’t all apply exactly, but a CEC that serves alcohol really needs to have similar policies.

      • Our local one does. You can only buy two beers at a visit, the line is usually about 15 people long, and the beers are hugely overpriced.

        I’ve never seen a drunk in the CEC.

      • Have you tried dealing with children in a public establishment *WITHOUT* alcohol?

        Really, how else are you going to get them to settle down?

      • Jason, to some degree it *is* a racist thing. But to a degree, sadly, I also I understand why/how it happens.

        There was a local dance club that used to be an alt-goth kind of place. They started to do a few hip-hop nights, which brought in a much more mixed/black crowd than the former alt-goth crowd (who were almost exclusively white, and if I had to guess, middle-class).

        The club eventually went to all-hip-hop format, and an almost exclusively black clientele. They also ended up adding metal detectors at the doors, cameras, and off-duty police officers in and around the club, to combat the increased number of fights. They were eventually closed down under severe city, media and police (who claimed they were expending undue resources at one location) pressure, after several stabbings and shootings took place in or right outside the club.

        Now, do I think this is all because it became a “black” club? No. Presumably, it became a “more crowded club, that was selling more alcohol” ( = the reason it switched formats to begin with was presumably because hip-hop drew a larger drinking crowd). This certainly contributes to more fights.

        I also suspect that hip-hop music counts more US lower socioeconomic-status fans that think of themselves as “gangsters” (maybe younger, too) than alt/goth does.

        But, I suspect that had the club started catering to any kind of “gangsters” – say, Hell’s Angels, playing whatever music they like – the results might have been similar.

        But do many people look and say, “look what happened when the club got more ‘black’?” Yeah, they do. And if they are in another club and they see the racial balance start to tip that way, white flight will undoubtedly ensue again. And especially in a place where alcohol is served, there is no question that “getting a bad vibe” is reason enough to leave, or avoid the establishment altogether. I have left or avoided clubs, irrespective of racial balance, where it felt like a “fight was in the air”.

        If CEC’s in general, or at a particular location, gets this rep – well, I am not sure that’s racist, at least not totally.

      • I think it also depends on how we view the violence. Two black guys throwing down at the hip hop club is viewed as the start of a riot. Two white guys throwing down at the sports bar are just two guys who’ve had one too many. Our perception of and response to violence by different groups varies greatly.
      • No doubt, but that is not quite what I am getting at. I will often avoid a place where I think there could be any fight (not riot) breaking out at all (and again, I have left a place more than once because you could just “feel a fight brewing in the air”).

        A bystander can get bumped or shoved and crack their head on a table or the floor in a plain ol’ 2-man fistfight. Not too many years ago, in a normally really tame neighborhood bar – one of my faves – a bystander tried to break up a fight between two people he didn’t know, and got stabbed to death. Now, this was a really random thing, fights are extremely rare at this place – but if a place starts to gain a rep for fights, I will avoid it assiduously.

        So it is with CEC – enough articles or anecdotes about fights there, and I can see nervousness about going, particularly if the CEC is perceived to be in a ‘bad’ neighborhood (‘bad’ of course being subjective).

      • Oh, sure. My point was simply the way we tend to process the same actions committed by different actors, be the differences gender, race, age, etc.

        I think if I showed folks a video of a brawl of black folks at CEC and another video of white folks engaged in the exact same type of brawl at a sports bar, their responses would tend to be different.

      • The C.E.C. as hotbeds of violent behavior got a lot of play in the Milwaukee papers a while back – there was a very racial subtext to all of the coverage – though it may have been more from the statements of the police and other “concerned citizens” than the paper itself, it’s been a long time.
  4. Nice post, Jason. I can’t say that I don’t wish you had said something more explicit, but then I also can’t say that I would have.

    My grandmother, born in 1923 in Hapeville, Georgia, and raised there, had some race issues all her life (unsurprisingly), but in her last years, after she’d had a minor stroke, the filter that she’d built up over the 70s and 80s just disappeared (apparently the stroke, which had very few observable effects on her behavior or thinking, caused a lesion in the “don’t say racist shit” region, which I assume is somewhere around the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and fusiform gyrus), and some seriously vile stuff would come out of her mouth. I’ll never forget the unfortunate conversation she and I had on Martin Luther King Jr. day a few years ago, or the time we went to a Chinese buffet filled with, you know, people of Chinese descent. Neither time did I say anything, so not only will I never forget what she said, but also what I didn’t.

    • I also think that when they get older, the “just don’t give a fish what people think anymore” region of the brain gets bigger. My mom has had no stroke, yet her incidence of questionable or outright indefensible statements seems to be increasing.
  5. You weren’t going to convert Older Relative; the most you could do is make your disapproval evident, which you did. I don’t see any real failure here.
    • Same here. The one thing you might have done is seen which CEC had more blacks and reversed the results given to Older Relative. Then when you get there, “oops, my bad.”

      It’s a tough situation to be in. All my family are Dirty Hippies so I don’t have that problem too much. (The in-laws are another story — for another time.)

    • I’m with you, here. Racism is so deeply buried in the psyche that it is virtually dislodgable. Calling out a racist doesn’t make them less racist–it just makes them resentful; and–perversely–to burrow in and start defending their beliefs.

      I think the best you can hope for is signal that racist utterings are unacceptable in public; or at least around you.

      I wrote here last year about my old aunt, and her discomfort with Obama (“There’s just something about him that I don’t trust…”) Well, the breakthrough came this year, in the form of Mitt Romney. Now she trusts Obama.

  6. The old double standard rasies it’s head: if blacks want to go somewhere that they will only be with other blacks that is ok but if whites do the same we are racist. If it is ok for one group then isn’t it ok for both?
    • I never said either of those was okay.

      In fact, I just assume that whites will be welcome everywhere in my neighborhood. We’ve lived here for two and a half years, we’ve been to lots of different establishments, and we’ve never had any problems. (Whether about race or sexual orientation, I’d add.)

      The standards here are (a) integration, where no one minds about skin color; and (b) whites’ voluntary self-segregation, which I don’t care for. That’s all.

      • News flash.: people of all races self segregate for many different reasons and neither you nor the liberals nor the govt can change that desire. If you assume you will be welcome everywhere you are fooling yourself.
      • I’m aware that people do self segregate. The fact that it happens doesn’t mean that I have to like it. Or that I should do it myself.

        And I’ll just repeat what I’ve said — we haven’t had any problems where we live. We take it for granted that we’re very welcome anywhere, and we don’t feel at all uncomfortable about being the only white people in an establishment.

        It disappoints me at least a little when other white people do feel uncomfortable about that. Because it shouldn’t be that big a deal. Really.

      • “I can’t believe you let people like that in your store.”

        “What are you, a racist?”

        “Not that.”

        “Hell, my cousin’s gay too. What kind of hater are you?”

        “No, the one on the left. He’s a libertarian.”

        “Damn. Where’d I put that baseball bat?”

      • I’m completely unbothered by intelligence segregation as it’s usually practiced. I understand that I have a higher than average IQ, and I find that I like to spend time around others who are like me in that regard. Often, the very most interesting people both have an above average IQ and come from a foreign culture.

        Intelligence segregation clearly doesn’t have the pernicious social effects of racial segregation, and no one could possibly practice it with the same level of consistency anyway, so, eh, who cares.

      • Strange that the kind of segregation that you approve of is ‘ok’ while the segregation you don’t approve of is not ‘ok’, isn’t it?
      • No, it’s not strange at all. It’s an analytical truth — it’s true merely by definition, and not even terribly interesting.

        But if you want a justification for my opinion, reread my second paragraph. Racial segregation has had obvious and pervasive ill effects in our society, in part because one actually can practice it fairly consistently, at least when laws allow and encourage it. IQ segregation has never been practiced this way, it probably can’t be, and it amounts in practice to very little more than my choice of conversation partners at social gatherings.

        If you want to make the case that that’s tantamount to Jim Crow, you’re free to try. But I think the burden of proof lies with you.

      • It also seems to me that IQ segregation, as practiced, is self-segregation.

        That is, it’s of the “Asian kids sitting next to Asian kids in the cafeteria” kind.

        The question then becomes one of “do you approve of letting people sit where they want?” which is much thornier than you seem to imply.

      • The problem is that most types of self-segregation are self segregation.

        We segregate from them because we are different from them. Whomever them be.

        What is acceptable segregation? Why does one kind of segregation is acceptable, while another is?

        At what point does segregation become hurtful instead of a choice of who do you sit/talk/have sex/marry with?

        It is not clear cut – at all. But we do tend to view the kinds of actions we take as less harmful than the actions others take , even when they are based on the exact same principle.

      • Scott, I hear crickets. You seemed so confident that there were places at which Jason would not be welcome, but you don’t seem to be able to name one. I’m going to assume you’re just rationalizing your own behavior, then.
      • Hear all the fishing crickets you want. I have a job that and don’t post on your schedule and besides it is hard to write much on my phone.
      • Chris:

        I raced home from work so you could get your fishing answer. I have no idea where Jason lives so I don’t know where he may or may not feel welcome or safe. He needs to decide that for himself. Jason said, “We take it for granted that we’re very welcome anywhere, and we don’t feel at all uncomfortable about being the only white people in an establishment.” I don’t think it is wise to assume that you are welcome everywhere. Maybe I’m overly cautious, maybe not.
        My father grew up in Chicago and used to tell stories about kids getting beaten up b/c they crossed into the wrong neighborhood based on racial, ethnic or religious lines. You just didn’t walk around thinking you would be welcome everywhere then and I don’t assume that now either. Fast forward to today, I used to live in Atlanta and was once talking with a black friend of mine about going to a strip club to see a famous stripper called White Chocolate. The club, Magic City, is almost totally patronized by blacks but he said he wouldn’t go there and definitively advised me not to go by myself. I wanted to go with him b/c I didn’t think I would be welcome by myself and I guess I was right. Another time I told the same black friend about my wife and I eating a particular Applebees that is mostly patronized by blacks. His joking response was why couldn’t we let his people have a meal in peace without white folks bothering them. We didn’t feel unwelcome but maybe we weren’t really welcome there. I hope that is enough of a fishing answer, sorry I didn’t think I could answer the question so simply on my phone typing with a single finger.

      • Scott, the impression I’m getting (and I apologize for being hasty… genuinely) is that you haven’t had any actual experiences of not being welcome, but have been told by one person or another that you wouldn’t be welcome somewhere. My suggestion to you, and again this is genuine, is to go there anyway and see how you are treated. Nine times out of ten, and perhaps even 99 times out of 100, no one will really care that you’re there. I say this as someone who’s spent much of his adult life going to places that white people don’t go because they’ve heard that white people aren’t welcome there. I I’ve always found that either people don’t care, people are glad I’m there and go out of their way to make me feel welcome, or it turns out there are other white people there who also haven’t been made to feel unwelcome. I have never, not once, felt unwelcome in any place just because I’m white, even when I was the only white person there. I admit there are times I felt uncomfortable, but not because of anything anyone else did, but because of my own worry that I didn’t belong there.

        Now, there are places you might want to avoid going because outsiders are not particularly welcome (these would be areas with heavy gang presences), or places where crime is so high that just about anyone would feel uncomfortable going there, and these places are often (but not always) in non-white neighborhoods, but this is less about race than class.

      • I’ve been the only (or one of the very few) white guys a lot of times, and I can guarantee you, there is nowhere near the tension as being the only black person.

        In other words, what you said.

  7. “They’re work, and it’s just not worth all the heat, all the time, to take that kind of stuff personally. But I’ll tell you, the things Older Relative said about those people… We just don’t talk about politics anymore. Ever. We can’t.”

    There is a meta-issue here, which can roughly be categorized as the ‘open’ vs ‘closed’ mindset. (Open minds tolerate the presence of closed minds, but not vice-versa). And therein lies the rub, there are certain arguments – this one being exceedingly common – that just can’t be had.

    Sigh…

  8. The problem I have with these occurrences is that it is Older Relative (OR) who created the uncomfortable scenario, but so often it is the respondent (Jason, in this case) who is faulted if and when the situation becomes combative.

    OR: Well, you know, the “atmosphere” is not what we’d like.
    JK: Do you mean you don’t want to go there because the patronage is predominantly black?
    Everyone else: Oh, Jason, why’d you have to go and make everyone feel awkward?

    The societal pressure on the Jason’s of the world, to avoid the confrontation because of the discomfort it exposes, is what allows these hateful mindsets to persist.

    • I don’t think so. I think a large part of this is that the creator of the uncomfortable situation creates uncomfortable situations, and they’re usually not the type to change much.

      Well, it helps. But the flip side to the social pressure to avoid the confrontation is that by keeping the pressure low, other avenues of erosion can occur.

      • That’s sort of what I was thinking; that it’s really not a binary formula, but a matter of type and degrees.
        That is, a “closed” mind will be open in other ways.
    • This.

      We’re doing Thanksgiving with the religious right part of the family, which–given the election results–I’m particularly dreading this year. But the inappropriate action won’t be talking about the horrible gayz and their destruction of marriage in three states, it will be saying, I’m happy for my gay friends.

      • I would be very tempted to say with a straight face. “You’re absolutely right. Johanna and I had a long talk about this, and there’s just no point to marriage anymore, so we’re getting a divorce.” Let them talk you out of it.
      • Oh, yeah! That’s my situation, too. It gets better…

        So the night of the election I’m sitting in my truck following the results on a couple of sites like NPR. When the race was called for Obama, in a moment of triumphalism, I posted a FB status that read, “The best part about this is knowing that a bunch of rich fucks spent about a billion dollars to unseat O and FAILED! ROTFLMAO”

        The next morning I saw a comment from my oldest niece (only five years younger than me) that said, “Classy Rod!” It was obviously meant sarcastically, although I couldn’t have told you ahead of time what her politics were. I honestly thought her beef was with the language since her middle-school son is on FB and could possible see the post. So I replied with, ‘Sorry, Michelle. I mis-spelled “folks”. Darn auto-correct ;)’, which she “Liked”.

        Fast forward to yesterday. My wife calls me and wants me to call my sister because we haven’t heard anything about Thanksgiving plans*. So I call her and she tells me to call Michelle. I call Michelle and before she’s going to invite us to the digs, she wants to be sure I’m not going to politically obnoxious. I reassure her that I have internet peeps to argue politics with and I really don’t want to mix that up with family (pretty much like Jason).

        But now I’m thinking… and my sister and her husband are coming from Washington, and everybody there is likely to be a Republican. And I know my bro-in-law likes to corner me about stuff, usually something technical, but sometimes political and he’s tedious as hell to be around.

        So I’m wondering… is this no-politics schtick going to only apply to me? She wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be “too happy” about the results. And, yeah, I could easily see racial comments sneaking in there after a few beers, too.

        And at this point, I’m sure everybody stopped reading a while ago…

      • Every time somebody starts talking about politics, say, “Somebody needs a hug” and give em a big one.
      • My solution is to get incredibly upset in front of everyone over some political/religious/ethical dispute. I weep or throw stuff or use swear words in front of children (they’ve heard worse). Once I just acted shaken -I mean, I was pissed, but I played it up- for about an hour, just laying down, refusing to say anything. That was really succesful. (I never leave; you might as well eat.)

        That will usually ruin an hour or so of that holiday for that year, but people get the message not to talk politics again, which usually lingers for a couple of years (or a year, depending on how many holidays we do) until I have to repeat the whole thing again.

        I figure it’s pretty embarrasing for me, but I’m taking one for the rest of the family, so I never bring anything with me.

        Man, I’m not a good person.

    • At least in my experience, some of it is heavily related to that “OR” part. Generational. The expectation of demurring to your elders and so on. Disagreeing is okay, but condemnation is not. That sort of thing. They’re supposed to tell you how the world is and not vice-versa. I’m in my thirties and that hasn’t changed.
      • That is certainly a part of it. We’re supposed to think, “Well, that’s just Grandpa Fred. He’s old. He doesn’t know any better.”

        To me, that’s a cop out and more insulting/disrespectful to Grandpa Fred than an intellectual objection. But no one wants to have THAT conversation during Thanksgiving dinner.

      • I think it’s more “Grandpa won’t listen to me and will be responded to unfavorably by being lectured by his grandson.”

        Or even not a grandson. A while back I was talking to my then-90-something (now dead) neighbor. She was telling me all about the medical establishment, health insurance, and doctors. In ways that were quite offensive to me on account of my wife (Lazy? No. None of her coworkers are, either.) but there was simply no truck in telling her that her perceptions were off-base. She’s been around 90 years, I’ve been around 30-something. The dynamic isn’t that I explain things to her.

      • Sure. But that dynamic is a problematic one, one that is (at least at times) used to deliberately prevent exactly the type of dissent we’re talking about.

        However, I’ve seen the same thing play out with folks of like ages. Johnny makes a quasi-racist joke. Many folks are uncomfortable with it but no one vocalizes anything because they don’t want to be “that guy” who is always making things so damn awkward.

  9. I will never understand the American weirdness about race. I read this post and it’s like I’m reading about another universe.
    • Slavery, basically. Poisoned the well.

      Canada’s issues are more with the First Nations, but we did a much better job of wiping them out in the first place and keeping them out of sight and mind, so racism there is less of a social problem.

      That being said, American discussions around race are peculiar, because they are so black and white, in both senses. Personally, I find discussions about how non-Caucasian racial groups interact more interesting, because they are less played out.

  10. I’d say you kept the peace, and did so at an extremely taxing time (Holidays!!), and while Older Relative’s view is extremely abhorrent, I’m not sure there is any demonstrable harm in going to one Charles Cheese establishment over another. But I would have relished watching the guy squirm at the location nearer to you while all “those people” enjoyed their games and meals while silently plotting to (insert violation here) him.
  11. I see no harm in accommodation of a sincere request, regardless of whether you hold the basis of the request as valid.
    I have a very good friend with an anxiety disorder, and Lord knows I have accommodated a number of sincere requests I would have preferred not to.
    • So are we going to categorize racism as a mental disease?

      I ask this only semi-snarkily; I have seen studies looking into that exact theory.

      • It’s a matter of terms.
        The racism, in itself, isn’t so much of a problem, whether in daily life or affecting others.
        The avoidance issues, on the other hand, meet both of those standards.
      • Oh lordy i hope not. Labeling ever human failure and screw up as a mental disease is a bad bad idea. The people who build the DSM can barely get recognized mental illnesses right without getting into an issue like racism.
      • To take another look at this:
        The avoidance issues are problematic (for the reasons noted above) regardless of whether they are race-based or not.
        We can say that, in some instances, race differences act as a trigger– xenophobia.

        But it’s really the behaviors which are at issue, and not a particularly held belief.

      • Except that differences in the “particularly held belief” can result in different impacts on others. A guy who’s clearly uncomfortable because he’s around a bunch of black people is likely to make everyone uncomfortable. A guy who’s uncomfortable just because being out of the house makes him anxious is going to give off different signals and affect others differently.
      • … all of which states that it is in those time that belief transforms into behaviors that the problem lies, and not in the beliefs in and of themselves.
      • I think it is an important question to answer if we are going to compare our accommodation of and response to it to that of a recognized mental illness like an anxiety disorder.

        At my school, we provide lunch for the kids. I have one kid who has sensory integration issues and is very reluctant to eating new foods. As a result, we allow him to bring lunch from home. I have another kid who has never met a power struggle she didn’t enjoy and insists on eating cupcakes and rice for lunch every day. We do not let her bring a lunch.

      • I’m generally against the finding of every human problem to be a mental illness. As a therapist i strongly tended to diagnose as simply and minimally as i could. If one diagnosis describes the problem then don’t use three. To many people tend the other way. Sadly xenophobia doesn’t seem to a sign of something broken in a person to the point they can’t function. It is more a typical feature of most humans to at least some degree.
      • This is my sense of the matter.

        I think we also tend to view mental illness as a binary; some folks have mental illnesses and some don’t and we should treat the former one way and the latter another. I tend to view it more as a spectrum. So, maybe a form of pervasive racism is indicative of an underlying mental illness, but it doesn’t necessarily excuse or explain every anti-social behavior the person engages in, like a different, more severe or pervasive mental illness might.

      • … a sign of something broken in a person to the point they can’t function.

        I believe that’s one of the diagnostic criterion.
        That is, if function is affected, then it should be diagnosable.
        If not, then no.

  12. One reason Jason and I opposed the idea of picking the restaurant with fewer African-Americans per se was that our daughter is growing up in a majority-black area. She won’t know that anything happened in this case, but some day down the road, Older Relative may seek similar “consideration,” and I don’t ever want that rubbing off on my daughter.

    Jason didn’t know this when he wrote the OP, but it’s absolutely choice that, as we recently learned, Older Relative declined to join us at Chuck-E-Cheese after all.

    For the record, in case details here ever happen to be raised in another thread, I have some quibbles with the facts of the matter as Jason described them, but Jason was in good faith trying to relate a story that included events I described to him. The story is well-written and basically correct in the lessons to be taken from it, by us and hopefully by other readers.

    • I wouldn’t worry too much about O.R. rubbing off on your little one. For one, she’s being exposed to people of another race regularly, and in large numbers, which will be the primary determiner of her attitudes towards members of that race (and likely other races as well). On top of that, she has you two as her primary source of information about the other race, so your attitudes will carry much more weight.
      • My mother-in-law tells me that when my wife was a kid, around 7 years old, she came home from school once looking somewhat distressed. She came to her mother, and asked ‘Is it ok to be friends with the black girl in my class? Because no one else is friends with her, but i really like her’

        Your attitude towards racism is much more likely to influence your daughter than that of those around you, since you are her role model. She is likely to not even understand racism until she is much older.

  13. Good post, Jason. Yeah… my now-deceased father-in-law was an OR type like you describe. If your OR was like mine the thing is, in any other way he’s a decent person, am I right?

    So one time I actually cut him off when he started making racist comments in front of my kid. Told him that’s not how we were raising her. He looked shocked and confused; like he really had no idea what he was doing was wrong. I don’t think he ever really figured it out. He would have really loved the black guy my wife dated in college a couple of times before we hooked up :).

  14. We don’t get Chuck E Cheese in Singapore. I am thinking of visiting one one while I am in the US. Is the pizza any good or will I just be wasting time and money?
    • The only reason for you to go would be to observe a slice of Americana. But if you want good pizza, ask a local for their favorite local pizza joint.

      When will you be in the U.S., and where will you be?

      • Ah, far away from me. Well, welcome to America; I hope you’re having a good visit. Tucson and Seattle–checking out grad schools by chance?

        I’m not sure there’s truly great pizza west of Chicago, but there’s surely some place in Seattle that wouldn’t gag a real pizza-o-phile (or that at least a New Yorker could stomach, if not a Chicagoan). But the best thing to eat in Seattle is sea food–not sure if that works for you, so ignore the suggestion if it’s out of place.

  15. I think you got this all wrong, Jason. You don’t need a second chance. (At what, breaking the old dudes balls?) And he doesn’t deserve anything either. (Having to eat shitty pizza surrounded by black people? That’ll teach him!!) This is life stuff, family stuff, where principles break down for the right reasons. Or justifiable reasons, anyway.

    My grandpa was the hero of my life when I was younger. When he got older, tho, there was change, what with all the “blacks to this” and “blacks do that” comments from him. Turns out, in his later years, he was a bit of a racist. I still loved him anyway.

      • Thanks. It’s funny to me that there’s never been a question about the gay thing from him. But he’s a devoted Fox News watcher, Republican, talk-radio kind of guy, and I gather from this thread that that’s where he’s picking up the “scary black people at Chuck E Cheese” meme.
  16. “And if it happens that the Daughter reaches high school and she’s not dating black guys — or girls, or both — then we’re going to sit her down and have a good long Talk.”

    Just curious: What sort of talk? It’s not all that uncommon for people to have a type. Perhaps she will date all black people. Or all white people. Or all Asians. Because she is attracted to that type.

    How do you talk someone out of that? And for what purpose?

    • I initially had the same sort of question. I don’t see anything wrong with narrowing romantic searches to certain profiles (including within one’s race). After thinking about it, though, I sort of agreed with Jason’s take. Which is to say that even if they decide they want to be with someone similar to them, it probably wouldn’t hurt to broaden one’s horizons just to make sure.
      • I don’t know if this is a universal experience, but I’ve noticed that every time I’ve dated outside of my “type,” my type has suddenly expanded.
      • Ahh, didn’t realize that (or didn’t see it or forgot). That changes the dynamics somewhat, though the main thrust still holds. Though race is central to this, there were also other things I was thinking of (economic class, religion or lack thereof).
      • No, she’s white. She might have a bit of a Latin or Mediterranean ancestry to her — we’re not 100% sure — but people definitely consider her white.

        And what I meant by “not dating black people” was being unwilling to consider it, or showing a pattern of not doing so — black guys repeatedly asking her out, her saying no all the time, that kind of thing.

      • Whoops. On further consideration, I realize I’ve confused you with a different gay parent who, IIRC, commented at Positive Liberty, and whose blog you linked to once or twice.*

        Do you have any inkling of who I’m talking about? I remember that he (or maybe his partner) was an ex-mormon, and he wrote some really interesting posts about being a couple of white guys raising a black daughter. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name, or the name of his blog, which is a shame. He wrote some really great stuff (which, of course, is why I incorrectly assumed that you had written the post I was thinking of).

        *Insert obligatory “All those people look the same to me”.

      • No, Jon Rowe was one of Jason’s Co-Bloggers at PL.

        The guy I’m thinking of wasn’t a PL blogger, but had a personal blog on a different site that got linked to a few times re: Same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships and showed up in the comments to discuss such issues.

      • Funny, I recently got hit up by a gal from Zimbabwean and took the opportunity to re-evaluate my past dating habits. I declined her offer for one simple reason: I don’t find the majority of African or African American women attractive. I’ve got this thing for euro types and Asians. Meh, that’s what I like. I see no problem with this.
    • Confession: I have cousins who have mixed marriages, but I know that if I ever went out with a girl who was not the right kind of Brahmin my parents would not entirely approve. Of course this is more of a religious requirement which happens to overlap with ethnic boundaries. I suppose that my parents can be considered race blind as their response would not change whether that non-Brahmin was Indian or otherwise.

      Even in Singapore, where lots of Indian Ministers marry chinese women, there still some pressure for Indians to marry other Indians. It’s not that society sees it as wrong. There is rarely any actual disapproval. There are just jokes and non-serious (as far as I can tell) clucking of tongues of the aren’t-Indian-girls-not-good-enough-for-them? kind. I don’t know whether that counts as racist or not.

      And at least part of what is working in keeping inter-racial marriage in Singapore rare are the religious and cultural differences which fall along ethnic lines. Indian Muslims have doctrinal and cultural differences with Malay Muslims (almost all Malays are Muslims). There few if any non-Indians who are Hindu. And there are few if any non-chinese who are Buddhist (except for Thais and Burmese who form a very very small portion of the permanent resident/citizen population) or Taoist. There are few Indian atheists in Singapore. And the bulk of Chinese-Indian marriages happen between Christians.

      • The two biggest disqualifications would be being an aiyengar brahmin and being from the same Gothram*

        *Brahmins ritually trace their patrilineal descent from the seven sages in Ancient India. This is called the gothram. There is an incest taboo about marrying someone within the same gothram. However, where the Gothram is different, even if they are first cousins, there is no ritual taboo involved. Of course, for those of us raised in more modern and western settings, marrying your first cousin is still icky.

      • I think that the fun part about tracing patrilineal descendants is that you can never be 100% sure of who is the father of a child.

        Before in-vitro fertilization, the mother you can be 100% sure – if the child was born from her, its her child. But the father can vary from almost 100% sure (IE: Everyone believes she had no contact with another man), to very sketchy. The only person who might know for sure who is the child’s father is the mother, and she has a very good reason to lie in many cases, especially when adultery is involved.

      • Hey, its never about making sense.

        Its always about having someone have the power to dictate someone’s life on rules that are ‘greater than everyone’

        Or, keep the power on the hands of the few that can dictate and interpret those rules.

      • its not always about power, or at least not consciously so. Sometimes, there are just these rules. And making grandma happy is important. And maybe there is something to be said about preserving one’s cultural heritage (without actually coercing anybody of course) when one belongs to a minority cultural group whose mores are gradually being eroded by the dominant culture. there is something to be said about fitting in with the practices of a group if belonging to that group makes you feel just that bit extra special even if you know that there is no rational reason to feel special for belonging to that group. Things are complicated enough that we don’t have to reduce everything to nefarious motives.
      • I’m curious — have you ever read A Suitable Boy? If not (and you have a few months to spare) I highly recommend it.
      • No, haven’t read it. I kind of consciously avoid reading stuff like Suitable Boy and 5 people you meet in heaven and Tuesdays with Morrie or Memoirs of a Geisha or anything by Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. Why? because even though this stuff is supposed to provide insight into the human condition my fiction reading is for pure non-intellectual pleasure. Any insight is purely a bonus.
    • I also wonder what was implied on ‘The Talk’

      I don’t think you can talk someone out of having a type. What you can do is find out why that preference is there. But then, how can you judge if a preference exists because of a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reason?

      I don’t date guys. The reason for that – i never been sexually attracted to men. Is that a good enough reason? I believe most people will agree that this is a pretty good reason. But here is another one:

      I don’t date idiots. Reason: Because it ennervates me being around stupid people. Who judges who is a ennervating idiot and who isnt? I do. Am acting with prejudice on these cases? Most likely.

      What makes reason 1 a good reason but reason 2 a not good one?

      All i am saying is – do try to understand why your daughter dates X, but not Y, or only dates Bs but will not consider going out with Cs. But do keep in mind that her reasons might be good enough for her, and that you should try to understand why.

      Yeah, i’m preaching understanding and open mindness to a gay couple, next task of the day is to try to teach subtraction to a mathmathician.

      But then again, i am curious to what you guys consider ‘The Talk’ should be about.

    • My grandfather asked me directly, when hearing about my new wife, if she was white. She was, but it was still a bit awkward. Between respect for elders, the fact that he comes from a completely different time, and the fact that it ultimately did not personally affect me, I saw no point in making an issue of it.

      I also remember when my cousin married a black man from Jamaica. It was quite the scandal at the time, though eventually he seemed to be completely accepted by the rest of the family without any issue.

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