It was one of those parties: folks in the basement, folks in the living room, maybe some folks upstairs. Discrete groups scattered through the house. Talking. Laughing. Game-playing. Debating.
That’s all I remember. I don’t know the occasion, or the time, or even how old we were (high school? college?). Stories from other gatherings that took place at that house sort of all blend together (was that the night that So-and-So got lost on the way there and ended up in Illinois? Was that the night when nobody believed that So-and-So could put her toes in her mouth? Oh, the pictures from that one…). But I just read a little snippet of a story in the paper this morning, and I remembered pieces of an argument from one of those gatherings, at one of those times…
The article discusses the Sprite Step Off, a stepping competition sponsored by Coca-Cola. Apparently, this year’s winners were a traditionally white sorority out of Arkansas. But due to a “scoring discrepancy,” Coca-Cola named a historically black sorority at Indiana University as co-champions. The company provided no further explanation as to the nature of the discrepancy, leading others to wonder what was really going on here.
Did Coke feel bad? Apparently mucho dinero was poured into marketing this competition to traditionally black fraternities and sororities, and look what happened: whitey wins again.
It made me wonder what the bestowal of a shared crown would feel like. Patronizing? Justified? Silly? The manifestation of white man’s guilt? I don’t really know.
Back to that party. The topic at hand was racism, more specifically racism directed toward white people. What (I think) began as an offhand comment about there not being all-white student groups (as opposed to black student unions, asian student associations, etc;) caught fire and exploded. Very quickly.
No one at that gathering was black. I don’t have to remember specifically what day it was, because that’s how it was, all the time, with this group of people. I’m not bragging or lamenting, just stating facts. And I don’t really know the progression of events; this began as a Basement Conversation, and I was not involved. All I could see was the aftermath, and feel how hot the entire house became once Indignant Basement People stomped upstairs followed by Surprised Basement People explaining what they exactly meant by what they said.
It’s been a really long time since I thought about that night.