"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

No To The Other Side Of The Tracks - Diversity Is Just A Casual Affair

'What's over there?', Betty Jane asked her mother about Wofford Square, a no-no neighborhood across the tracks of the B&O railroad.  "It's not for you, dear", her mother replied. 'A lot of ticky-tacky, ramshackle houses, all cinder blocks and unpleasant things.  Stay on this side'; and so it was, of course, that Betty Jane in time crossed the tracks and met up with Angelo Pozzi, son of a factory worker and because of him spent nine months at the Convent of the Little Sisters of Mercy in Middletown until her ratty, dark-haired baby was born. 

'I told you so', said her mother.  'Now, what are we going to do with it?', meaning the baby whom nobody seemed to want.  Perhaps if it had been blonde and blue-eyed like her daughter, she might feel differently, but this...this darky...was unconscionable.  'Her wonderful husband is fighting the Japs', was the mother's story, and one day he would be lost in Mindanao and Betty Jane would begin her life again. 

The other side of the tracks was not a bad place, lots of garlic and yelling, people trying to make a go of their new life in America.  There were of course good reasons why it was a no-fly zone for girls from the West End, country day school girls off to Miss Porters and Vassar. They would never find their Paddington Harris III of the Vineyard Haven and Beacon Hill Harrises there, have blonde, blue-eyed children, and live on the North Shore. 

As it turned out, the child turned out all right.  There must have been some decent Etruscan genes in Angelo's DNA to match Betty Jane's patrician, English ones.  She had found good social cover for him in a marriage to a confirmed bachelor, a good man happy to be free at last from a hectoring mother and maiden aunts, and indifferent to the nature and origins of young Potter. 

It all should have never happened in the first place.  'Stick to your own kind' were the wise words of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, and had young Betty Jane realized that there was no future across the tracks, no possible cross-cultural accommodation in the cards, and no reason whatsoever to leave her people, she would have been better off.  There is always trouble brewing when you stir someone else's pot. 

The remake of Bernstein’s original, faithful to theme, music, and lyrics attempted to make the story one of today – all traces of racial and ethnic stereotypes removed and the upbeat, happy ending emphasized.  Although we may cling to outdated notions of cultural and racial separatism, we will eventually realize our common humanity and such divisions will disappear.

Nor in a coon's age – history records the persistent identity of tribes, clans, religious sects, communities, states, and nations. Although recent DNA analysis has shown that homo sapiens did interbreed with Neanderthals, the two ‘racial’ groups tried to kill each other off.

Why is this lesson so hard to accept? Don’t birds of a feather flock together? Don’t they peck at the intruder until he leaves?

American Indian tribes fought each other to the death. African tribes slaughtered each other and used captured warriors as currency. Chinese dynasties rose to power after battles with pretenders and likely enemies.

Yet stirring the pot and sampling the soup has always been tempting.  Thomas Jefferson was not just anxious to get out of the hen house for while, but was curious.  What would sex be like with a girl who just a few years ago had been toting water in an African jungle and sold on the block for more than able field hands because of her native charm and beauty.  Who wouldn't jump at the chance? 

Romans loved the taste of Nubian women, Louis XIV favored peasant girls from Bretagne, and the alliances of Imperial Europe were not just for political reasons but sexual curiosity. A little on the side has been a staple forever - a tasty smorgasbord far more inviting than coq au vin no matter how well prepared. 


Yet these kings, courtiers, and American presidents, for all their dalliances and sexual curiosity, stuck with the program, followed the script, and assured the purity of their line.  We think of Martha Washington and Abigail Adams, not the concubines and mistresses of the Low Country and New Orleans. 

Of course such sexual libertinage has never been a one-way street.  Women have been just as tempted by sexual curiosity and appeal as men.  Adulteresses are common literary fodder. Emma Bovary married well but unhappily, and yet she only thought she knew the balletic moves of the aristocracy.  Lady Chatterley's desire for sexual mutuality was satisfied by Mellors, but it was their milieux that divided them in the end.  Anna Karenina got her comeuppance for straying, as satisfying as the relationship with her Don Juan had been. 


The point is of course not that well-to-do-women find sexual allure in strange places, but that all women do, and they are only more limited than men in their adventures because of a persistent lack of social countenance for their sexual energy.

Everyone sticks together – white people, black people, gay people, professionals, wealthy people – but as long as they are productive, responsible members of the community at large, there is no reason to disrupt this natural, millennia-old tendency of likes to group with likes. There is no demonstrable advantage, profit, or gain from forcing socio-cultural integration.  Too much has been made of sharing experiences of unlike people – encouraging white, wealthy residents to look into the lives of dysfunctional black ones makes no sense at all. 

Raves were popular in the 90s because they brought all types together.  Private school girls from Georgetown and Spring Valley danced with yobs from Gaithersburg but married boys from Yale. Diversity is only a casual affair. 

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