Thursday, February 11, 2010

You notice there's something wrong with Washington, DC even before you've gotten downtown. You drive through a slum you'd never have expected. The few people you see walking around are poor and black, and the restaurants -- just a step up from shacks, really -- serve black-identified food like jerk chicken and barbecue.

A mile later, all this becomes a memory as you cross a line into Whitesville that's so sharp you expect a border guard. Now, all of a sudden, every hotel, every store, every restaurant is upscale and white. Every face is upscale and white.

You look around, and at some point it hits you: if the Republicans and Democrats can't even fix up the city they live in, what hope do they have with the rest of the U. S.?

There are two main themes you pick up in Washington: one, we've made some truly dreadful mistakes for which we're truly sorry. And two, is this a great country or what?

I'm not sure how to answer that second question surrounded by so much evidence of the first. In the Smithsonian Museum of American History there's a section of the Woolworth's lunch counter from Greensboro, North Carolina where four black students staged a sit-in after waitresses refused to serve them. There's a replica of a slave cabin, and a floor plan of a bus station complete with separate black and white waiting rooms.

And mere feet away there's the enormous flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. Feel that national pride stirring yet?

On my tour of the Capitol building, the guide repeatedly referred to slavery and the fight for civil rights, and pointed to exactly one bronze bust of Martin Luther King among the hundreds of marble white people as proof of how far we've come.

They're sooo sorry. What an embarrassment! But ain't this a wonderful land?

I can't merge the facts in my head. I'm guessing they think our problems have been solved, or that at least we're capable of correcting them. But then you look at the lily-white faces of the pages scurrying by, you look at the pale faces of every man who struts by in an expensive suit, you notice the conspicuous absence of any reference to homosexuality, and you wonder how anybody can claim anything has changed.

On my way out, I close my eyes and crank up my iPod. I want to go back in denial. It's like going to your interior decorator's home and discovering that all of his furniture is from Ikea.

On the plus side, I don't think I'll ever see a better likeness of Ralph Kramden.

1 comment:

Luke_Sydney said...

I guess when you have the next Republican candidate asking "a year later, how is all that hopey-changey stuff working out for yer?", it's easy to see that America has no hope of ever improving its own internal or external standing. Since the Korean War, America has had zero positive infulence in the world.