# # Racist

Brother, I Can See Your Skull.

Brother, I Can See Your Skull. - The Coreyshead Blog



“Are you a racist?”

The question comes from the back of the bus. It is not inflected in the way you might expect: no anger, no indignation, no shock; just a loud, open question that hangs in the air like a heavy curtain pulled between those of us in earshot and our lives of careful make-believe.

The speaker is a young man I’ve seen many times before; a regular rider of the bus like myself. We get off at the same stop and many is the time I have marveled at the stumbling, stiff-legged stump of a run he breaks into at the sight of his mother: a big-boned, square-jawed blond in her early thirties who waits in a tricked-out, soft-top CJ-7 on big, studded tires and sporting an “I’d Rather Be Topless” license plate frame.

He is thick and oafish; 18 or 19, 6’ 2” with sand brown hair, rough shorn and hankish on his head. His skin and features make me think he has some native heritage: lightly tannish year round, a larger nose on an otherwise flatter face devoid of all but the peachiest of fuzz, and evidence of epicanthi in the corners of his eyes.

Swathed in stained and ill-fitting dark brown and black, his Carhart’s regularly slip off his waist to expose three inches or more of intergluteal cleft, a wardrobe malfunction he is either comfortable with or oblivious to as I have never witnessed any attempt of his at hitching them up to a more audience friendly clime. He has broad, dirty hands with which I gather he is learning to weld as his foot-cheese heavy body odor is often tinted with ozone and his conversation with arc this, bead that, and ductility what-have-you.

“I said are you rascist?” He asks it again, leaning forward with an eagerness indicating that the question means no more to him than “are you hungry?” or “wasn’t that cool?”

The young man he is addressing sits slumped in the seat, a red baseball cap and over-large sunglasses shielding him from the world. “Uh,” he hesitates, “no.”

“Oh, okay, cool. Right. Yeah. I was wonderin’ ‘cause I have some racist friends and they were tellin’ me that, down south, if you wear different colored shoelaces it means you’re a racist.”

They both look down at Sunglasses’ feet then he shifts in his seat and looks out the window with an unconcerned “huh.”

“Yeah, they tell some pretty funny jokes, those racists. I mean, I’m not racist but the jokes are funny anyway, you know? Like, why do blacks have white hands and feet?”

The bus is still loading with people but it is as silent as I have ever heard it. No one speaks, no one turns their head; we are all listening as if to our fates. Only the joker and his immediate audience seem unaware of the hush.

Sunglasses shrugs.

“They were on all fours when God spray painted them – huh huh h’haw huh! – pretty good, huh? Oh, oh and uh: What word starts with “N” and ends with “R” that you never want to call someone who’s black?”

Sunglasses waits.


The braying, self-congratulatory laughter sounds again, this time with a grudging flash of teeth from Sunglasses indicating that his reticent behavior is a child of studied hipness, not dismay at his acquaintance’s repugnant repartee.

The driver turns his key and the bus gives a shudder as the diesel engine tractors to life. There is an adjusting of bags, of coats and sweaters, bunched pants seams, earbuds, books and papers. The chassis rises up off its kneeling air suspension; an obedient elephant. The front door unfolds with its batlike, hinged complaint, the brake is released, and we ease forward out of the transit center yet, somehow, never out of our discomfort.

As one who daily chooses to sit in the parallel bench seats at the front of the bus, to settle myself in such a way as to look back across my fellow traveler’s faces rather than towards the ever-unfolding tunnel of my hopeful destination, I am used to the typical banter and habits of the afternoon bus. It is a quiet ride most days but today the stillness is different.

This is rural transit, our backdrop is not the hard grey of city streets but dark, lush forests carpeted with moss and ferns, fields of grass speckled with cattle or elk, hidden neighborhoods, gated RV parks, small towns with gas stations that double as supermarkets. We are students, teachers, nurses, bakers, retail workers, and coders; with very few exceptions, we are white.

And tonight we know it.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply