"We have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand." —Robert F. Kennedy
Not long ago my neighbor Igor—who is as unlikely to be reading a blog as his dead Ukrainian ancestors, so not to worry—asked me if he could build a fence to cut off the gangway between our houses.
Igor is a helpful and reliably cheerful neighbor whose only selfish pleasure, as far as I can tell, is his morning cigarette, smoked shirtless in the backyard as he rubs his hairy chest. The rest of the time, he is fixing people's cars in his garage for an extra dollar and or shoveling snow with his neighbors or dreaming up ways to kill the alley rats so feared by "our girls," as he refers to his wife and daughters and my wife and daughter.
So I'm inclined to do whatever Igor asks. But this fence would be mildly inconvenient to me, as it would force me to punch in a code every time I want to turn the water on to my garden hose.
So I asked Igor why he wants a fence.
The normally blunt Igor scratched his head. He uncharacteristically hemmed and incongruously hawed.
"It is," he said, in his heavy accent.
"It is," he said.
"It is … the African Americans. I just don't like it when they go between our houses!"
Now that's some respectful racism right there.
I must say, I have not noticed legions of African Americans, or any other kind of Americans, passing between our houses. But I didn't even point that out to Igor.
If my neighbor wants to build a fence to make himself and his family feel more secure, I will allow him to anchor that fence to my western wall. And up with this unnecessary obstacle to my spigot (whether or not built by a bigot), I will gladly put.
And come to think of it, I think I'm like a lot of people in that way.
That seems important, these days, to understand.