I’m 61. I’m White. I live in a city in the Southern US that sprawls for many miles. Its structure has been shaped by and for the car. Recently I choose to give up driving because I’ve always had a phobia for it, which has gotten worse every year, to the point that the last few times I drove I had severe anxiety attacks, and came home totally exhausted from the experience. I also have a history of depression, which put me on Social Security Disability for three years a while ago. I now have a job that comes with a very good health plan, one that is known to practitioners throughout this city because so many people here have it.
Now that I’m not driving, I’m very assiduous in finding ways to work around that detriment. I do most of my shopping on the Internet. For my frequent trips to health professionals, I’ve found a fine organization that gives ride to the afflicted.
Several months ago I set out to develop a relationship with a small pharmacy located about 3 miles from the downtown of this city, where I live. The listing of that pharmacy in the Yellow Pages said “We deliver.”, and that’s why I chose to use it. I had several conversations on the phone with a pharmacist there. I filled out two sets of forms he mailed me. My downtown address appeared prominently on both. I received no questions or comments from the pharmacist on any of the information I supplied. I then went happily on with my life, figuring I had the prescriptions problem well provided for.
Several weeks after that, I came home with three new prescriptions from my doctor, which he had also faxed to that drugstore. I called them the next day to place an order. The pharmacist informed me, out of the blue, “We do not deliver to downtown.” Nothing I said would change his mind, even though either he or his partner had received my earlier telephone calls and the forms I’d filled out, both of which had contained my downtown address — which, again, is located less than 3 miles from their place of business.
I wondered angrily for a while why this sudden reversal had occurred. I decided that I will never know. But I wonder: Could it have anything to do with the fact that the downtown of this city is known to be a place where many Black people live?
Over the last few weeks I made a couple of calls to a local audiologist, asking to make an appointment to get my broken hearing aid fixed and get an updated hearing test. I explained that I would have to get a ride there, since I did not drive. I mentioned that fact in both calls.
I showed up today and the audiologist fixed my broken hearing aid by cleaning it out. The whole interaction took no more than 10 minutes. The audiologist’s manner was abrupt and dismissive. She then informed me that she did not have a time to give me a hearing test, and I would have to come back another day.
I was very disappointed because I knew I couldn’t come back, due to the difficulty of arranging a ride and the fact that the hearing test was just a precautionary thing. It wasn’t essential.
Then I sat in their waiting room awaiting my ride home for half an hour. I didn’t see any new customers come in. I started to wonder why I had been denied the hearing test, and complained to the audiologist’s receptionist. She said that she had put me down for a hearing test, and had no idea why the audiologist wouldn’t give me one.
I left, bemused.
Why this dismissal? As in Story #1, a health provider had denied his or her services to someone who needed them and was in a position to pay full price for them. Could the reason for that have anything to do, in this case, with the fact that during my talk with the audiologist I mentioned that I had received my 2 pairs of hearing aids free from the State Vocational Rehabilitation Office over the past 9 years? (That happened while I was coming off Disability status and returning to work.)
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
This is the redstate American South. I grew up here. It has a history of the most vicious, heartless racism, amounting to American apartheid. I remember things being said in my home about Blacks that, even as a child, I found vicious and cruel. In my middle-size town in the 1960s, Blacks lived in an enclave of their own, and no interaction occurred between them and Whites that I could see, except those strictly necessary for business (which did NOT include their being allowed to hold any good, white-collar jobs).
Though much has changed here since then on the surface, such a fundamental cultural wellspring as that old racial hatred does not go away in a single generation. Does it still flow here as strongly as ever, but now all unspoken, and does it explain the mystery of Story #1, and, indirectly, of Story #2?
This is Ultra Right Wing home base. The radio-host pygmies on local AM station WJBO strive daily to stand as squarely in Rush Limbaugh’s huge shadow as they possibly can. Folks who call into the shows of those mini-Rushes love to hear the hosts’ vituperation, and from time to time make it clear that they, too, take it as given that all recipients of social programs are cheats, thieves, and/or layabouts.
This drumbeat of propaganda is endless and unrelenting. The generalized fury of the local AM talk radio listeners is so thick it’s almost palpable. It has an emotional intensity way beyond what I think can be motivated by mere disdain for the awfulness of liberalism alone. But the power of xenophobia, now…THAT is strong enough to do the job!
I’ve come to believe that the triumph of extreme right wing sentiment in the South arises from continuing hatred of Black people, an unusual number of whom live in poverty here in the South, and so are the the main recipients of those hotly-condemned social programs. Hate the program and consider it worthless = scorn its beneficiaries.
By being stridently Right, folks down here have found a way to be racist covertly.
Did I, a White man, then, get unceremoniously shown the door today due to merely being associated in someone’s mind for a moment with the hated minority group? Did the audiologist simply show me her dislike for a presumptive cheat/thief/layabout?
Or am I just being paranoid?
Even if I am, as we’ve all heard many times before:
“Just because I’m paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me!”