Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two Worlds on the Same Planet

First stop was
the North End Terminal
in Memphis—
hundreds of
dark skinned
men, woman, and children
waited as busses
came and went.
Occasionally someone would
see someone familiar,
and they'd catch up a bit.

He'd sell
a cigarette
for a couple of quarters
(we used to give them away—
but they were cheap then).

Their bus would come
and they'd board it,
with difficulty,
for the bus might stop anywhere
along a long driveway,
and they'd have to run
to catch it.

A big man, hunched over,
sweeping up the cigarette butts,
and straws, and wrappers
(as Sisyphus rolled the boulder
up the hill) .
He'd try hard
to keep
the waiting area
but it seemed to gather debris faster
than he could

Another man, with a battery powered
wheelchair and guide dog, boarded a
bus with a ramp. Someone came up to him to
ask him about his dog.

A woman, three hundred pounds,
at least, had a neck brace.
I asked her
if she was in a car accident.
"No," she said, "I fell down the stairs."

An hour later, my bus arrived at
the airport.
I was the only light-skinned
one to board
and the sole rider
to made the entire journey.

At the airport there were almost
no dark-skinned ones,
and no man
sweeping cigarette butts.
Planes were coming and going,
with covered carpeted
conditioned walkways
leading to each plane.

Two worlds in the same day.

A very successful exec.
in pre-washed designer jeans,
spoke confidently and endlessly
to a rash of associates
on his cell.

His conversations were
broadcast to all.
He tried to get comfortable
on the airport seats,
slouched this way and that,
with one foot on the table
his seat and the next.

Two worlds on the same planet.


Kate Freeman said...

Two worlds on the same planet. --- Mr. Mosley

Begs the question then. . . which world do you belong to?

It is weird though . . . what you point out. . .

At one time, the Civil Rights Movement gained force when people recognized their right to have a seat on the bus. Now having a seat on the bus usually has associations of poverty, crime, and dark skin tones.


Kim Mosley said...

Good point about the seats on the bus now being for the downtrodden. My parents were certainly in the airport world. I had a grandfather who I admired greatly who could feel comfortable in both. And my wife had one set of grandparents who were on the bus. Don't know if they every owned a car. I admired them as well. I feel as if in another life I was on the bus. It feels like home in a strange way. Growing up on the south side of Chicago I was very close to the bus terminal, yet in an airport.

Kate Freeman said...

I think I’m walking a fine line between two worlds too. Most of the time, I feel like I don’t really fit into either world. I just have an ability to navigate both.

When I’m on the bus, I feel like I stand out because of my skin. Like I can’t really fit in, because I so obviously stand out. Like others wonder what is airport-girl doing here. Yet at the same time, it is where I feel most comfortable. It is where I spend most of my time.

When I’m at the airport, I feel like the people around me just assume I am of their world. They accept me immediately because I look like them. And I listen to them tell me about their many trips to the Napa Valley and the wineries they visit, about the new energy efficient refrigerator they bought (just doing their part to save the planet), and about how they voted against that Metrolink expansion because it would just bring in crime. I feel out of place.

Then all this sort of begs the question. . . Is the world you feel you belong to the same world others would put you in? Because I do feel there is a difference between what world you feel you are in and what world others perceive you to be in. Because I think I know more than a few people who are riding on the bus but telling themselves that they are on a plane. And then sometimes I wonder if I am really a plane person just because I can afford a ticket now and again.

Kim Mosley said...

Do you know about the sociological perspective, that we aren't who we think we are, nor are we what others think we are, but rather we are what we think others think we are. Which seems removed from any semblance of truth, doesn't it?

I wonder if most people or even anyone at the airport think of themselves as plane people? In the same way everyone is an above average driver (except me), maybe everyone thinks of themselves as different than the stereotypical plane person. We'll have to do a survey.

Kate Freeman said...

we are what we think others think we are. --- Mr. Kim

I don’t get it.

I wonder if most people or even anyone at the airport think of themselves as plane people? --- Mr. Kim

I know airport people who take great pride in their position. Maybe not most of them. . . but a good number. Real airport pride. The kind that reminds you why you keep riding that bus.

I really feel (like I said before) that there are probably more bus people in denial of their position. Everyone aspiring to have the airport life, then beating down other bus people as if they aren’t bus people themselves. Manipulated by the frequent fliers. Helping to keep the status clear.

At the 2004 Democratic convention, Obama said, “There is not a Black America, White America, a Latino America, and an Asian America. There is the United States of America.”

I feel Obama when he says things like this. It’s an appeal for unity. It’s a call to brotherhood. It’s Jesse Jackson’s rainbow nation. And yet at the same time, we are sitting here typing away about the two worlds on the same planet . . . because it would be obnoxious to not recognize the gap.

So anyway, I’m just left here wondering if the talk of two worlds on one planet is more hurtful or helpful. And is Obama’s one United States more helpful or hurtful?

All well. . . I think he’s still the best president we’ve had this century.

Kim Mosley said...

Rather than "we are what..." I should have said, "we see ourselves how we think others see us." We are buddha, and we usually don't see that.

Your right about people thinking of themselves as plane people. I did a survey and asked my wife if she was a plane or bus person. She said, "do you ever see me at the bus station?"

Maybe the answer to whether we should focus on the oneness, or the disparity... is the buddhist answer, "not two, not one" when talking about the mind/body.

Kate Freeman said...

I should have said, "we see ourselves how we think others see us." --- Mr. Kim

Still don’t really get it. I’m just going to tell myself from now on that people think I’m great. Therefore, I am great. Good enough.

If one feels that the ‘two worlds on one planet’ condition seems unacceptable, what is the alternative? Is the goal to bring everyone up to airport status, bring the airport people down to bus status. . . or just have everyone drive cars? If you perceive yourself to have privilege, what do you do with it? If you feel you have no privilege, what exactly keeps you out of the airport?

I have privilege. I know that. The only thing keeping me out of the airport at this time has very little to do with an inability to be there. It has more to do with how I feel when I am there. I don’t think it is that way for most bus riders. Moreover, I have not figured out what the hell I’m supposed to do with my privilege. . . This is a source of much frustration.

Bus people and airport people. . . My friend that works for a mortgage company told me that her coworkers always refer to black people as ‘Canadians’ because it would be racist to talk about black people. . . Please assure me that this is not what we are doing.

Kim Mosley said...

I asked a sociologist about the perspective. She writes, "The view that you're referring to sounds like Charles H. Cooley's theory of self-development which he called "the looking glass self," wherein he argued that there's no self-development nor capacity for reflexive thought until and unless you engage in increasingly sophisticated social interaction with others (which typically happens across the life course, though he didn't assign ages to any of his "stages" of self-development). According to Cooley, we use the reaction of others as a mirror for our own self concept development. He also acknowledged that the mirror can be "distorted," by the way, meaning that we can--and frequently do--get it "wrong." That is, we misinterpret what we think we see all of the time, and we certainly misunderstand how others think about us. Nevertheless, we tend to act on our definitions of reality, anyway, and in doing so, that reality is well, real. Cooley was an early proponent of symbolic interactionism, of course, which argues that society itself is constructed (and maintained) by people's everyday interactions, and by their subjective definitions. It's a much more fluid and dynamic theory of society and culture than the big, macro-level theories (think Marxism), but it does tend to be ahistoric and apolitical. Not surprisingly, it developed in 20th century United States."

She wanted me to give credit to David M. Newman, too (DePauw University); [for] the way he frames information heavily influenced her own understanding, and lectures, too.

Kim Mosley said...

Miss Kate brings up two points. The first is whether the two worlds on one planet is unacceptable, and whether there is an alternative. I think undue (whatever that means) suffering is not acceptable. I hope we can lessen that suffering. So maybe the gap between the bus and the plane people can be less.

And the second is whether it is racist to separate people by color... if that is what we are doing. I've taken enough workshops about racism to know that few of us can really prove our innocence. The best we can do is to become more aware of our perceptions and reactions. Moving from one world to another within an hour made me very aware that privilege (at least in Memphis) seems rampant.

Joshua, 1980