Commenter “K” left this on the Paula Deen thread. I thought it was worth putting in its own post:
My American experience is mostly limited to the northern portions of a handful of the most northern states. When I have in decades past worked with the elderly, there were plenty who used words like “darky” for black people (also “chinaman” for anyone Asian) and they meant it as gently and inoffensively as they knew how.
I am so fascinated always in how unsegregated the south is, and how easy and casual about race, compared to what I have otherwise seen (outside of actually racially blended families such as my own background). Among my generation in the north, people will nearly kill themselves trying to seem as if they have not so much as noticed someone’s race, even if he was the one black dude working in an entire mall filled with white people, when they would save themselves so many words they spent trying to describe everything else about him other than his skin color. They are scared to death to just say “the black guy”.
When white and black people find themselves in the same restaurant or checkout line in close proximity, you could cut the awkwardness with a knife, white people startled and black people silent with faces of stone. They don’t dislike each other, exactly, and some of the jokes (at self expense) run along the lines of how to avoid meeting each others eyes, as if the white people are treating black people like unknown creatures from the wild, or among black people how they can show to white people that they are friendly and nonthreatening. The painfully good “company manners” between white and black people maintain the distance and message perfectly that they are not remotely of the same group.
In larger cities of course, it is not, as much, like this. But the voluntary segregation even in those is just so solid and so self conscious, compared to what I see the further south/southeast you go. And when a friend of mine learned that there was even such thing as black farmers or black rural people he could hardly believe it. I wish people could share social space more.
I noticed this too when I lived in the North — a coldness between black and white in public interaction that we just don’t have down South. It wasn’t hostility, just anxiety. It’s perfectly normal for black folks and white folks to talk to each other in public, and to treat each other with courtesy, even though the private opinions they have of each other might be racist. Meanwhile, a white friend from up North who moved to my town said that where he comes from, white people get nervous saying the word “black” among themselves. Everybody is so afraid that they might say something racially incorrect they struggle to talk about normal human experiences.
What’s it like where you live? Why do you think it’s that way? I’m not interested in reading anybody beat up on people who live in another part of the country. I’m interested in variations in local and regional culture, and possible explanations for them. Keep that in mind as you answer.